Australian states ease restrictions with Covid-19 outbreaks under control

It will no longer be compulsory for people in Victoria to wear masks when outdoors, though it remains mandatory in public indoor venues.
It will no longer be compulsory for people in Victoria to wear masks when outdoors, though it remains mandatory in public indoor venues.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) - The Australian state that has been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic announced a further easing of restrictions after recording no new infections for 23 consecutive days.

It will no longer be compulsory for people in Victoria to wear masks when outdoors, though it remains mandatory in public indoor venues. The state's Premier Daniel Andrews announced the new rules that will apply from Monday (Nov 23), just over two weeks after removing a strict three-month lockdown on Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city.

Other changes include allowing as many as 15 visitors in a household a day, up from two now. That figure will double by Dec 14, allowing people to plan for a relatively normal Christmas season, Mr Andrews said.

From Monday, larger gatherings will be allowed in churches, recreation and sports centres, pubs, restaurants and cinemas. Offices will be able to implement plans for workers to gradually return.

"Even though these rules are important changes, this virus is not gone," Mr Andrews told reporters in Melbourne on Sunday.

"The key message is, Victorians have done an amazing job and build something that is so, so precious. But it is fragile," he said.

While community infections in Victoria have been eradicated after reaching a daily peak of about 700 in early August, it's still feeling the impact of the outbreak.

Australia's government estimated 1,200 jobs were lost a day across the state during the period, and demand for mental health services surged by more than 30 per cent.

The outbreaks in Australia, including in the state of South Australia in the past week, show the challenges in controlling the virus - even in a nation that has been spared the scale of infections and deaths experienced in Europe and the United States.

The New South Wales state government announced on Sunday it would remove all border restrictions with neighbouring Victoria on Monday after they were in place for three months.

Virgin Australia Holdings on Sunday said it will ramp up flights from Monday to reconnect Melbourne with other parts of Australia, including with the New South Wales capital city of Sydney.

South Australia recorded one new case on Sunday from the day before - a traveller who returned from overseas and is in quarantine. On Sunday, the state eased its lockdown restrictions, which had been in place since last Thursday and were originally scheduled to run for six days. The cluster has been restricted to 26 cases as at Sunday.

South Australia's restrictions included a ban on outdoor exercise and dog-walking, after contact tracers said a man had become infected after buying a takeaway pizza.

They later established the infected person had misled them and was an employee at the restaurant, where he had been in close contact with another infected worker during several shifts.

The state of 1.7 million people, spread out over a land mass five times the size of Britain, had largely eradicated community transmission of the virus after a nationwide lockdown earlier this year. The cluster began after a cleaner at a hotel that was used to isolate returning overseas travellers was exposed to the virus.