SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia reported its lowest one-day rise in novel coronavirus infections in nearly three months on Monday as authorities began to ease restrictions aimed at slowing its spread.
Thirty-nine people were found to be infected with the virus in the past 24 hours, the lowest one-day increase in new cases since June 26, when 37 infections were detected.
With dwindling numbers of new infections, the epicentre of Australia’s latest outbreak, Victoria state, has begun easing restrictions, allowing people to leave their homes for longer periods for exercise and shortening a curfew at night.
Still, frustrations are high, with hundreds of people taking part in protests on the weekend against the weeks-long coronavirus lockdown. Authorities urged patience.
Brett Sutton, Victoria’s chief health officer, likened the cautious easing of restrictions to “baby steps”.
“We can’t have short-term memories on this,” Sutton told reporters in Melbourne, referring to the virus.
“It starts with small numbers and it explodes.”
Australia’s second largest city was placed under strict lockdown in early August after more than 700 cases were detected in Victoria state in a single day.
In Queensland state, which has effectively eradicated the virus, authorities are under pressure as they decline to open its borders to other areas that are also free of infections.
With families separated, even for funerals, the state’s chief health officer is under police guard after getting death threats.
Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, was the only other to report any new cases with four in the past 24 hours. All but one of the cases was in quarantine after returning from overseas, though officials warned against complacency.
Australia has recorded a total of 27,000 novel coronavirus infections and 817 deaths.
(Reporting by Colin Packham additional reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Jane Wardell, Robert Birsel)