SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australia's second most populous state of Victoria eased social gathering restrictions on Friday (Jan 22) after recording 16 days without any new coronavirus infections in the community, doubling the number of people allowed to gather at home to 30.
The state, which will host the Australian Open tennis tournament in its capital Melbourne next month, has managed to eliminate the virus following an outbreak and one of the world's strictest lock-downs last year.
Ahead of the Feb 8-12 Grand Slam, as many as 72 players were confined to their hotel rooms for two weeks upon arrival.
On Friday, Spain's Paula Badosa became the first player to confirm a positive test for Covid-19 while in quarantine in Melbourne.
Australia has fared better than most developed economies in the pandemic through swift border closures, lockdowns, widespread testing and social distancing.
On Friday, it achieved a fifth day of zero coronavirus cases in the community nationwide. It has recorded a total of just over 28,700 cases, the overwhelming majority in Victoria, and 909 Covid-19 deaths.
The country's national Cabinet will meet on Friday to discuss its planned vaccination rollout and quotas for returning citizens, which were slashed earlier this month due to concerns about new strains of the virus originating overseas.
New South Wales state, the focus of recent community outbreaks which sparked border closures and interstate travel restrictions, on Friday recorded no new cases for the 5th consecutive day.
Queensland state Premier Annastacia Palaszscuk tweeted three new cases of overseas Covid-19 transmissions had been detected in the country's third most populous state, but there had been no new positive cases detected.
That was the 10th day without local transitions there following a small outbreak of a more contagious variant that infected at least six people.
Ms Palaszscuk is expected to table a proposal at the meeting to move quarantine centres to mining camps in remote areas, away from hotels in cities.
The idea, however, has raised concerns about its practicality as well among remote communities servicing the mining and oil and gas industries.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said bigger gatherings would be allowed at home from midnight and travel with Covid testing from most parts of NSW and Queensland would be allowed without having to quarantine for 14 days.
Meanwhile, Emirates, which had temporarily halted flights to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane due to Australia's strict testing rules, said on Thursday it would resume those flights later this month.