By Colin Packham
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s coronavirus hotspot of Victoria reported on Monday its lowest daily rise in infections in three months, although state Premier Daniel Andrews said there were no plans yet to ease restrictions sooner than expected.
Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state and home to a quarter of its 25 million people, reported 11 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the smallest one-day jump since June 16. It also reported two deaths due to the virus.
“This is not just a good day. This is a great day,” Andrews told reporters in the Victorian capital, Melbourne.
But the premier said his government would not accelerate a timetable for easing restrictions, which were imposed after daily case numbers topped 700 in early August.
“The formal position is clear,” Andrews said.
“If circumstances change, if we find ourselves ahead of schedule, not for one day, but in a manifest sense, common sense always guides us,” he added.
Melbourne has been under one of the toughest lockdowns, including nightly curfews, but the state government has said it will let construction sites, manufacturing plants, warehouses and childcare facilities in the capital reopen on Sept. 28 if the average number of cases over two weeks is below 50.
The average in Melbourne is now below 35.
The bulk of all restrictions in Victoria will be lifted in late October if the two-week average for the state is below 5, a target that has been criticised by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as too punitive and costly to the country’s economy.
Australia has recorded its first recession in 30 years, while effective unemployment is still to top 13%, as virus-related restrictions paralysed business activity.
The restrictions in Victoria, the epicentre of Australia’s COVID-19 outbreak, have however prevented a second wave of infections in the country.
Australia has reported nearly 27,000 cases, 75% of which have been in Victoria, and 851 deaths due to the virus. Nearly 90% of all COVID-19 deaths have been recorded in Victoria.
New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, reported four new cases in the past 24 hours, though three of them were already in hotel quarantine after returning from overseas.
Queensland state also reported one new infection in its hotel quarantine system.
(Reporting by Colin Packham, additional reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Himani Sarkar)