New coronavirus cases in the Australian state of Victoria fell to single digits for the first time in more than three months on Monday, as officials began winding down some restrictions brought in to control the outbreak.
Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, placed nearly five million residents of its capital Melbourne into a hard lockdown in early August as it emerged as the country’s COVID-19 hotspot, but lifted a night curfew on Sunday thanks to a steady fall in new daily case numbers.
The southeastern state reported just five new cases and three deaths from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours. Daily cases topped 700 in early August.
The two-week average of new infections in Melbourne fell below 21. Authorities have flagged that more curbs could be relaxed once average cases hit certain targets.
Earlier, Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday said Victoria should do more “in the weeks ahead to safely ease more restrictions,” after state authorities promised an accelerated timetable for returning to normal.
The southeastern state said 127,000 workers would be allowed to go back to work on Monday, 30,000 more than in its previous plan.
The accelerated timetable for removing restrictions across Victoria is a boost to Australia’s ailing economy, which is in its first recession in three decades.
Also on Monday, Victoria’s neighbouring state of New South Wales reported zero cases for the second day in a row.
NSW State Premier Gladys Berejiklian made the announcement as she warned against complacency, saying “the threat of the virus is still around us.”
Australia has, so far, reported a little more than 27,000 cases and 875 deaths, with Victoria accounting for about 75 percent of cases and nearly 90 percent of all deaths.
Meanwhile, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that the drop in the number of cases in Australia could possibly pave the way to travel between the two countries before the end of the year.
“What we would need to be assured of is that when Australia is saying, ‘OK, we’ve got a hotspot over here,’ that the border around that hotspot means that people aren’t able to travel into the states where we are engaging with in trans-Tasman travel,” she was quoted as saying.
The two countries have been planning to establish a travel “bubble” for months as the number of cases slowed down. But a resurgence of cases in Australia and the emergence of few cases in New Zealand disrupted the plan.