Australia’s Victoria state reported no new coronavirus cases or deaths on Monday, raising hopes that a stringent lockdown in the city of Melbourne will be eased.
It was the first 24-hour period without any new reported COVID-19 infections since the five million residents of Melbourne were locked down following an outbreak at quarantine hotels in July.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday delayed the reopening of Australia’s second-biggest city amid an outbreak in Melbourne’s north.
Officials said they had tested about 15,000 people in the area and all had come back negative.
“This is one of the best outcomes we could hope to see,” said Jeroen Weimar, commander of testing and community engagement for Victoria.
Andrews is under intense pressure to lift Melbourne’s second round of stay-at-home restrictions, imposed when the state saw some 190 new cases a day in July, a figure that rose to 700 in August.
Some measures were lifted last week, allowing haircuts and golf games to return, but several rules remain in place, including limiting restaurant service to takeaways and deliveries, while non-essential shops have to remain closed and there is a ban on travel outside the greater Melbourne area or more than 25 kilometres (16 miles) from home.
Businesses and the federal government argue the continued curbs will delay Australia’s economic rebound.
Australia’s economy shrank 7 percent in the three months to the end of June, the biggest quarterly shrinkage since records began in 1959. The unemployment rate hit a 22-year high of 7.5 percent in July as businesses and borders closed to deal with the coronavirus.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has highlighted the fact that neighbouring New South Wales state has much looser restrictions despite regularly reporting higher daily case numbers.
While the measures have taken a significant toll on the country’s economy, Australia has so far recorded just over 27,500 COVID-19 infections, far fewer than many other developed countries.
Separately, a paper published by the Actuaries Institute on Monday said physical distancing and lockdowns not only slowed the spread of COVID-19, they also saved the lives of about 400 people who would have been expected to die in June from respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia.
Examining Australia’s most recent official fatality data, the Actuaries Institute said there were fewer verified deaths than expected during the mid-winter month, which it concluded was due to a decline in respiratory illnesses.
“It is clear that lockdowns and other COVID-19 control measures have created great hardship for many in Australia. There will surely be medium and long-term consequences for physical and mental health and the economy,” said Jennifer Lang, convener of the Actuaries Institute’s COVID-19 Working Group.
“These measures have not only saved very many Australians from COVID-19 disease and death, they have also reduced deaths from a number of other causes.”