SYDNEY • Australia yesterday reported its smallest daily increase in new coronavirus infections in more than three months, but the authorities in the nation's virus hot spot of Victoria said they could not hasten the easing of curbs.
The 16 new cases are Australia's smallest daily jump since June 14. There were also two more deaths.
"This light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer every day," deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth told reporters in the capital Canberra.
The bulk of the new cases once again came from south-eastern Victoria state, the epicentre of Australia's second wave of infections, where 11 people tested positive over the last day, down from a daily record of 725 early last month.
However, it was too soon to hasten the timetable for removing curbs, said Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews. "If circumstances change, if we find ourselves ahead of schedule, not for one day, but in a manifest sense, common sense always guides us," he told reporters in the state capital of Melbourne.
Nightly curfews are among the measures imposed on the city in one of the world's toughest lockdowns, but state officials have said that building sites, manufacturing plants, warehouses and childcare facilities can reopen next Monday if the two-week average number of new cases remains below 50. Now it is below 35.
The bulk of Victoria's restrictions could be lifted late next month if its two-week average stays below five, a target which Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has criticised as too punitive and costly to the national economy.
Australia is battling its first recession in 30 years, while unemployment in July hit a 22-year high as virus curbs paralysed businesses.
The Victoria outbreak has also closed off prospects that travel between Australia and New Zealand could resume soon.
But the Victoria curbs have prevented a second wave of national infection.
Victoria has contributed almost 75 per cent of Australia's tally of nearly 27,000 infections and roughly 90 per cent of its 851 deaths.
Meanwhile, Mr Morrison's approval rating has risen slightly, a poll showed yesterday, as measures by the Conservative government to tackle the pandemic helped to maintain his popularity.
A Newspoll survey conducted for The Australian newspaper showed Mr Morrison's performance rating rose a percentage point to 65 per cent from a month earlier, just short of the highs of 68 per cent in June and July.
Mr Morrison also recovered ground as the preferred prime minister after a dip in the previous poll, with the number of people supporting him nudging a point higher to 59 per cent, the poll showed.