SYDNEY: Australia's COVID-19 hotspot of Victoria said on Monday (Sep 28) its daily rise in new COVID-19 infections fell to single digits for the first time in more than three months, as the state began winding back some restrictions.
Victoria, Australia's second-most populous state, placed nearly 5 million residents of its capital Melbourne into a hard lockdown in early August but lifted a night curfew on Sunday after 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, after 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.
Curbs on industries such as construction and manufacturing have been lifted in Melbourne, with childcare centres reopening and small religious services allowed to resume.
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Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the downward trend in new cases was "very, very significant", suggesting more restrictions would be eased if it continued.
"We are so close to being able to take a really big step – big step towards that COVID normal," he told a press conference.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday said the state should do more "in the weeks ahead to safely ease more restrictions", after state authorities promised an accelerated time table for returning to normal.
Despite the lifting of the curfew, Melbourne residents remain subject to a stay-at-home order and are only allowed to travel within a radius of 5km for a limited number of approved activities.
Non-essential businesses are still banned from reopening, with restaurants only available for takeaway, a rule that has caused angst among many owners.
On Monday, a Victoria state judge was scheduled to begin hearing a case challenging the validity of lockdown measures – specifically the now-scrapped curfew – reportedly brought by a cafe owner frustrated by plummeting revenues.
The southeastern state said 127,000 workers will be allowed to go back to work on Monday, giving a boost to the economy, a rise of 30,000 from its previous plan.
Melbourne became the epicentre of Australia's second wave after security bungles led to the virus escaping from hotels used to quarantine travellers returning from overseas.
Australia has so far reported just over 27,000 cases and 875 deaths, with Victoria accounting for about 75 per cent of infections and nearly 90 per cent of all deaths.
Most regions are now reporting few or no new daily infections, allowing restrictions to be rolled back across much of the country.
The nation has maintained strict controls over its international borders, with limits on the numbers of citizens who can return from overseas and a ban on leaving.