SYDNEY (Reuters) – The Australian state of Victoria reported four new COVID-19 cases on Monday as people in Melbourne were granted more freedom to move about after a months-long lockdown, buoying hopes an outbreak in the city was nearing an end.
Case numbers were up from just two on Sunday, but extended a run of single-digit daily increases to almost a week and is well down from a peak of more than 700 cases in a single day in early August.
After more than 100 days in a strict lockdown that allowed only for two hours of outdoor activity a day, the 5 million people living in Melbourne, Victoria’s capital, will be able to spend as much time exercising outdoors as they wish.
However, people must stay within 25 kilometres (15 miles) of their homes, public gatherings will remain tightly limited, and retailers and restaurants must operate only on take-away or delivery orders.
State Premier Daniel Andrews set Nov. 1 as the date for the next stage of lifting restrictions, but said some could be eased earlier if cases remained low and had a known source.
But the timetable has frustrated Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s federal government, which is pushing Melbourne to reopen in order to revive Australia’s ailing economy.
“Quite clearly, it’s having a huge cost on the Victorian, and indeed, the national economy,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Sky News on Monday.
Australia’s economy shrank 7% 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% in July as businesses and borders closed to deal with the coronavirus.
Australia has recorded just over 27,300 COVID-19 infections, according to health ministry data, far fewer than many other developed countries. Victoria accounts for more than 90% of the 905 deaths nationally.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Jane Wardell)