Australia eases social distancing restrictions as economic recovery efforts intensify

People dine at a cafe in Bondi Beach, Sydney, on June 1, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Several Australian states eased social distancing restrictions further on Monday (June 1), allowing restaurants to host more people and public attractions to reopen, as Canberra moves to revive the country's ailing economy.

Australia has recorded about 7,200 coronavirus cases and 103 deaths, and with new infections now largely under control, it has embarked on a three-step plan to remove the bulk of curbs by July.

In Australia's most populous state, New South Wales (NSW), cafes and restaurants were allowed to cater for 50 seated patrons, while 20 guests will be allowed to attend a funeral.

Both were previously limited to 10 people.

Public attractions, such as Sydney's Taronga Zoo, art galleries, museums and libraries were also allowed to reopen.

"It's pretty crazy being back out into society and we're super excited to get to the zoo," Elizabeth Conlon, who took her two kids to Sydney's Taronga Zoo, told Reuters. "They were very excited this morning, getting up and knowing that it was a zoo day. We used to come to the zoo all the time as well, so it's very exciting to get back here."

While reopening public spaces for the first time in several months, authorities have said there will be limits on the number of people allowed to enter in a bid to ensure there is no second wave of infections. Each site will need to ensure a social distancing norm of 1.5 meters between visitors is observed at all time.

In Victoria state, which has taken the most cautious approach to reopening, restaurants and cafes could reopen on Monday. However, patrons are restricted to a maximum of 20 people.

Australia hopes removing restrictions will boost economic growth, though Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday said additional, targeted stimulus would be needed.

Australia's government and central bank has pledged about A$250 billion (S$235 billion) in stimulus, though the bulk of this is expected to end by September.

Morrison said his government is considering a plan to offer homeowners one-off grants for renovations, while federal infrastructure projects will be bought forward.

He added that the government plans to spend another A$5.25 billion to extend a train route to a airport being constructed in the west of Sydney.

"A big part of coming out of the Covid-19 crisis is our infrastructure spending," Morrison told 2GB Radio.

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