Australia govt to discuss reopening of state borders, amid falling number of Covid-19 cases

SYDNEY/MELBOURNE (REUTERS) – Australia’s virus hot spot state of Victoria recorded its lowest number of new infections in five weeks on Friday (Aug 21), as Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s national Cabinet met to consider how and when to open state borders.

Victoria logged 179 new cases in the past 24 hours, compared with 240 a day earlier and down from over 700 per day two weeks ago, after the authorities introduced a nightly curfew and shut large swathes of the state’s economy. The state reported nine deaths.

“Whilst tomorrow’s numbers will be for tomorrow, we are all pleased to see a ‘one’ in front of these additional case numbers,” state premier Daniel Andrews said in a televised news conference. “To be at this point shows that the strategy is working.”

With cases in Victoria declining and low or zero levels of infections elsewhere – neighbouring New South Wales logged just one new case on Friday – business leaders have called for an easing of internal travel restrictions to help alleviate the blow to business and the economy.

Many states have closed their borders to prevent the spread of infection, and Queensland’s premier said this week that its border would not reopen to any states with cases of community transmission.

A national Cabinet meeting on Friday was set to prioritise assembling a framework for domestic border management, a source at the prime minister’s office told Reuters.

“The PM is working directly with relevant premiers on issues that are being raised with us,” the source said.

Qantas Airways said this week the state border closures were severely hampering a recovery in the domestic aviation market, while retail group Wesfarmers said the restrictions were causing enormous hardship.

Despite the second wave outbreak in Victoria, Australia has largely avoided the high casualties of other nations with just under 24,500 infections and 450 deaths from the virus.

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