SYDNEY: Australia is on track for a 10th day of no new local COVID-19 cases on Wednesday (Jan 27), allowing its most populous state of New South Wales to relax coronavirus restrictions after controlling a fast-spreading cluster.
New South Wales has recorded no local cases for 10 days after low single-digit numbers earlier in January. Victoria state, which is hosting the Australia Open tennis tournament, has gone three weeks without a local case.
Other states and territories which have mostly been COVID-free, some for months, will report daily case numbers later on Wednesday, but are expected to report zero local infections.
Australia's success in curbing small outbreaks, with a total 22,000 local cases since March 2020 and 909 deaths, comes at a time when global coronavirus cases are edging towards 100 million with the death toll surpassing 2 million.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced coronavirus restrictions would be eased from Friday, including rules around mask wearing and allowing more people in house parties, weddings, funerals and places of worship.
The restrictions had kicked in late last year to successfully curb virus clusters in Sydney's northern beaches and western suburbs. The outbreaks saw other states and territories close borders or restrict travel from New South Wales.
Berejiklian hinted that restrictions would be eased further in two weeks if there were no further cases, adding she was "striking the right balance" between economic growth and virus control.
"They both go hand in hand, you can't have an open economy unless you make sure you get the health settings right," she said, while urging Sydneysiders to come out and get tested for COVID-19 even for the "mildest of symptoms".
Despite its relative success in handling the pandemic, Australia's international borders will likely remain shut to non-citizens this year although there may be exclusive travel arrangements called "bubbles" with its South Pacific neighbours.
Australia had a one-way "travel bubble" with New Zealand where those arriving from the latter didn't have to quarantine, but that arrangement was suspended for 72 hours on Monday after a highly infectious coronavirus strain was found in New Zealand.
New Zealand reported a third day of zero cases on Wednesday, allaying fears of a fresh outbreak.