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New virus cases in Australia's hotspot state hit five-week low

MELBOURNE, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Australia’s virus hot spot state of Victoria recorded its lowest number of new infections in five weeks on Friday, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison prepared to build a framework for state borders to reopen.

Victoria logged 179 new cases in the past 24 hours, compared with 240 a day earlier and down from over 700 two weeks ago, after authorities introduced a nightly curfew and shut large swathes of the state’s economy. The state reported nine deaths.

With cases in Victoria declining and low or zero levels of infections elsewhere, business leaders have called for an easing of internal travel restrictions to help alleviate the blow to business and the economy.

Many states have closed their borders to prevent the spread of infection, and Queensland’s premier said this week its border won’t reopen to any states with cases of community transmission.

A national cabinet meeting on Friday was set to prioritise assembling a framework for domestic border management, a source at the Prime Minister’s office told Reuters.

“The PM is working directly with relevant premiers on issues that are being raised with us,” the source said.

Qantas Airways Ltd said this week the state border closures were severely hampering a recovery in the domestic aviation market, while retail group Wesfarmers said the restrictions were causing “enormous hardship”.

Despite the second wave outbreak in Victoria, Australia has largely avoided the high casualties of other nations with just under 24,500 infections and 450 deaths from the virus. (Reporting by Melanie Burton in Melbourne; additional reporting by Colin Packham; editing by Richard Pullin)

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