Coronavirus Global situation

Australian states ease restrictions with outbreaks under control

People at a cafe in Melbourne yesterday. The Australian state of Victoria has started easing its coronavirus emergency restrictions by allowing people outdoors without having to wear a mask for the first time in months. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
People at a cafe in Melbourne yesterday. The Australian state of Victoria has started easing its coronavirus emergency restrictions by allowing people outdoors without having to wear a mask for the first time in months. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY • 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 today, 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 today, 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 yesterday. "The key message is, Victorians have done an amazing job and built something that is so, so precious. But it is fragile."

Some 90 per cent of Australia's 907 coronavirus-related deaths have been recorded in Victoria.

While community infections in Victoria have been eradicated after reaching a daily peak of about 700 in early August, it is 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 yesterday that it would remove all border restrictions with neighbouring Victoria today after they were in place for three months.

South Australia recorded one new case yesterday from the day before - a traveller who returned from overseas and is in quarantine.

Yesterday, the state eased its lockdown restrictions, which had been in place since last Thursday and were originally scheduled to run for six days.

It began to impose restrictions which 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 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.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2020, with the headline 'Australian states ease restrictions with outbreaks under control'. Print Edition | Subscribe