May 16, 2020 / 4:02 AM / 21 days ago

As Australia slowly relaxes lockdown, Victoria battles COVID-19 clusters

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Struggling to curb the spread of the coronavirus while the rest of Australia has begun relaxing a two-month lockdown, Victoria state on Saturday reported 11 new cases, including some linked to known clusters at a meat factory and a McDonald’s restaurant.

FILE PHOTO: Customers sit at a restaurant on the first day of eased New South Wales coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, allowing up to 10 patrons to sit at a time inside establishments previously only open for take-away, in Sydney, Australia, May 15, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File photo

The nationwide tally of new cases had still to be compiled for Saturday, but on Friday the southeastern state had accounted for 20 of the 31 new cases reported across the country.

New South Wales, the most populous state, has been hardest hit by COVID-19, but new cases there have subsided, with just three reported on Saturday.

For the first weekend since mid-March, restaurants, cafes and bars were re-opening in most parts of Australia, including New South Wales, but Victoria retained most of its lockdown measures.

The northeast state of Queensland, where just one case was reported on Saturday, also eased its restrictions over the weekend, allowing restaurants, cafes and beauty salons to reopen, and groups of 10 people to meet for recreational purposes in parks, at playgrounds or for barbecues.

Australia has recorded just over 7,000 COVID-19 cases, including 98 deaths, significantly below levels reported in North America and Europe, but health officials continued to urge vigilance and encouraged people to stay home.

Victoria state health minister, Jenny Mikakos, said that it was “inevitable” that there will be more coronavirus outbreaks.

“It’s important that everyone understands this pandemic is not over,” Mikakos said during a televised briefing. “It is important people take every possible precaution.”

Two of Victoria’s new cases were connected to a cluster at a meat factory, where 98 people have been infected so far. Another new case was linked to a McDonald’s restaurant in Melbourne, bringing the total number of cases in that cluster to 11.

Earlier this week, Australia reported record high job losses as a result of the lockdown and Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned that worse was still to come.

Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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