SYDNEY: Australia on Tuesday (Sep 15) recorded its first day without a COVID-19 death in two months, as states began to lift restrictions amid growing confidence that a second wave of infections has been contained.
While officials said there were 50 COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, a small increase from a day earlier, Australia reported no fresh fatalities for the first time since Jul 13.
Victoria state said 42 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, a small increase from the figure posted one day earlier and well below the peak of more than 700 infections detected in August.
Victoria last recorded no COVID-19 deaths on Jul 13.
The result will buoy optimism that a stringent lockdown of nearly 5 million people for nearly seven weeks has curtailed the spread of COVID-19.
Still, with infections falling in regional areas of Victoria, state Premier Daniel Andrews announced social distancing restrictions in those areas would be eased late on Wednesday.
Outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people will be permitted, residents of a household will now be allowed to visit one other home, and cafes will be able to seat up to 50 people outside.
"We have driven case numbers down to very low numbers in regional Victoria. That's taken some time. We stayed the course and now we can open up," Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.
"That should be something that I think inspires confidence and a real sense of hope that the same thing can be achieved to the best of our ability across metropolitan Melbourne."
Melbourne, Australia's second most populated city, is on an extended hard lockdown until Sep 28. But with the steady fall in cases, some restrictions were relaxed from Monday, allowing people to leave their homes for longer periods for exercise and authorities shortened a night curfew.
Victoria, home to one-quarter of Australia's 26 million population, now accounts for about 75 per cent of the country's more than 26,700 coronavirus cases and 90 per cent of its 816 deaths.
Queensland state reported one new case on Tuesday, a returned traveller from overseas and in quarantine.
New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, recorded seven new cases.
South Australia, one of the remaining states and territories to effectively eliminate the virus, said it will restore travel links with the Australian Capital Territory surrounding Canberra.
With dwindling numbers of COVID-19, Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison has turned to reviving an ailing national economy, unveiling a series of policies to lower the price of gas to fuel a manufacturing recovery.
"We continue to do better than almost every other developed country in the world when it comes to protecting lives and livelihoods," Morrison said in a speech in Newcastle, 161km north of Sydney.
"If we are shut, we are not living alongside the virus, the virus is actually keeping us from living."