Victoria 'well placed' to start easing Covid-19 curbs as Australia approves AstraZeneca vaccines

Victoria was plunged into hard lockdown from midnight on Friday after a fresh outbreak. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australia's Victoria state is well placed to begin easing out of a snap five-day coronavirus lockdown on Wednesday (Feb 17), Premier Daniel Andrews said, as it reported just two new Covid-19 infections on Tuesday.

Victoria, the second most populous state in the country, was plunged into hard lockdown from midnight on Friday after a fresh outbreak linked to a quarantine hotel.

The state's six million-plus residents are required to stay home except for essential shopping and work, caregiving and outdoor exercise.

Andrews reported two new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the recent cluster to a total of 19 people.

"This strategy is working," Andrews told reporters. "We are well-placed to be able to make changes tomorrow night. As I said yesterday, I'm not in a position to definitively commit to that, because these next 24 hours will be crucial," Andrews said.

The Australian Open tennis tournament, which is being held in the state capital of Melbourne until Feb 21, has barred spectators until the end of the lockdown.

New South Wales, the country's most populous state, on Tuesday recorded 30 straight days without a local Covid-19 case, the first time since the pandemic began. The virus has been effectively eliminated in other states and territories.

Australia has reported a total of just under 29,000 Covid-19 cases and 909 deaths, with border closures and speedy tracking systems helping keep numbers relatively low compared with other developed countries.

Australia will begin inoculations for its 25 million population from Feb 22 after receiving its first shipment of Covid-19 vaccine on Monday.

Meanwhile, Australia's medical regulator said on Tuesday it had granted provisional approval for the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca, making it the second vaccine to get regulatory approval in Australia.

The regulator last month approved the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for use and inoculations for its 25 million population will begin from Feb 22.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.