Australia's Victoria continues steady downward trend in Covid-19 cases as PM Morrison eyes jobs bounce-back

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Australia looked set to record its lowest daily increase in new coronavirus cases in three months on Sunday as a hard lockdown in the city of Melbourne brought the country's virus epicentre down sharply.
The better virus numbers are a boon for the government as it gears up for a crucial Budget in October. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - Australia's coronavirus hotspot of Victoria reported on Monday (Sept 21) its lowest daily rise in infections in three months, although state Premier Daniel Andrews said there were no plans yet to ease restrictions sooner than expected.

Victoria, Australia's second-most populous state and home to a quarter of its 25 million people, reported 11 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the smallest one-day jump since June 16. It also reported two deaths due to the virus.

"This is not just a good day. This is a great day," Mr Andrews told reporters in the Victorian capital, Melbourne.

But the premier said his government would not accelerate a timetable for easing restrictions, which were imposed after daily case numbers topped 700 in early August.

"The formal position is clear," Mr Andrews said. "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 added.

Melbourne has been under one of the toughest lockdowns, including nightly curfews, but the state government has said it will let construction sites, manufacturing plants, warehouses and childcare facilities in the capital reopen on Sept 28 if the average number of cases over two weeks is below 50.

The average in Melbourne is now below 35.

The bulk of all restrictions in Victoria will be lifted in late October if the two-week average for the state is below 5, a target that has been criticised by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as too punitive and costly to the country's economy.

Ahead of preparations for a cautious reopening in Victoria, Mr Morrison says he is expecting to see a jobs bounce-back in the nation.

The better virus numbers, combined with surprisingly strong recent jobs data, are a boon for the government as it gears up for a crucial Budget next month.

With the country in its first recession in almost three decades and interest rates already at a record low, the government must weigh the need for further stimulus while also trying to wean the nation off emergency wage-support packages.

"There will be hundreds of thousands of more jobs come back in between now and Christmas," Mr Morrison told the ABC's Insiders programme on Sunday.

"Victoria will bounce back and that will add to the level of jobs growth."

The budget will include "a range of measures," Mr Morrison said, while refusing to be drawn on specifics.

His administration's signature JobKeeper wage-subsidy programme is due to end next year and rates of payment will be cut from this month.

"You don't have to hold on to every measure forever," Mr Morrison said. "There are other measures that come in and pick up from where others left off."

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Sunday that the administration is preparing an "astounding" injection of money into the economy, citing senior government members it didn't identify.

One possibility is that already-scheduled income tax cuts will be brought forward. Such a move could spur households to part with some of their recently built-up savings and boost consumption, Commonwealth Bank of Australia said in a research note on Friday.

The states are to receive billions of dollars in extra infrastructure funding in the budget, the Australian Financial Review reported on Monday, without saying where it obtained the information.

The Australian newspaper reported the government is considering wage incentives for businesses to take on extra workers as part of a comprehensive jobs plan in the budget.

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