SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will continue easing social distancing restrictions despite an outbreak of coronavirus in one state, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday.
The country’s second-most-populated state, Victoria has seen 10 straight days of double digit new cases. It has about 200 of the country’s total of 270 active cases.
Although authorities are scrambling to contain the virus, including embarking on a massive testing regime and calling in military support, Morrison said states and territories on Friday had agreed to remove more social distancing curbs.
“All states are committed to continue on with the various plans that they have and they’re making,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
Australia has pledged to remove the bulk of the country’s social distancing restrictions by the end of July, although each state and territory are determining their own pace.
Australia’s international borders will remain closed, but the country’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, said Canberra would strengthen requirements on people returning from overseas.
Australia requires all locals who return to quarantine in hotels for two weeks. But about 30% of people in Victoria have declined a COVID-19 test before leaving quarantine, the state’s deputy chief medical officer said.
“We are going to start testing people on entry to quarantine and testing people before they leave quarantine,” Murphy told reporters in Canberra.
Despite assurances from Morrison that Australia’s coronavirus curve is “flat”, Australia’s largest supermarket chain, Woolworths, on Friday introduced restrictions on toilet paper and kitchen towels across the country.
“We’re taking preventative action now to get ahead of any excessive buying,” said Claire Peters, managing director of Woolworths’ supermarkets division.
In March, Australia’s major grocers put strict limits on such purchases as shoppers stripped shelves amid fears of a coronavirus lockdown.
Morrison has struck a bullish tone on reopening the economy as Australia heads into its first recession in nearly 30 years, insisting the country’s health system can cope with a rise in new cases.
Morrison on Thursday unveiled a A$250 million ($170 million)recovery package of grants and loans for the arts sector and said he would discuss the reopening of venues at Friday’s meeting.
Australia has recorded a total of around 7,500 infections, including 104 deaths, well below many other nations.
($1 = 1.4537 Australian dollars)
Reporting by Colin Packham; editing by Jane Wardell and Gerry Doyle