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Health

Some Australian states relax border curbs as infections ease, hotspot cases rise

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s coronavirus hotspot of Victoria on Tuesday reported a more than doubling in new infections likely as a result of increased testing, while other states said border restrictions would be relaxed as case numbers dwindled.

FILE PHOTO: Walkers wear protective face masks at St Kilda pier in Melbourne after it became the first city in Australia to enforce mask-wearing in public as part of efforts to curb a resurgence of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), July 23, 2020. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders

Officials said the northeastern state of Queensland would open its borders to parts of neighbouring New South Wales (NSW), the country’s most populous state, amid growing confidence that a second wave of infections in the country has been contained.

Australia reported 33 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, versus 16 a day earlier. Twenty-eight of those were reported in Victoria, up from 11 a day ago but significantly below peaks of about 700 seen last month.

The state, which introduced one of the world’s toughest measures to control the outbreak, including nightly curfews, has contributed about 75% of Australia’s tally of nearly 27,000 infections and roughly 90% of its 851 deaths.

NSW has maintained new daily infections in the single-digits since Sept. 11, reporting only two cases in the past 24 hours, both of which were overseas travellers already in quarantine.

Queensland had no new cases, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said. She said residents from some neighbouring areas, including the NSW tourist spot of Byron, would be allowed to travel to Queensland in coming days.

“These areas have a lot in common with Queensland. They usually do a lot of their business in Queensland. So, we believe that this is the right measure to take,” she told reporters.

In South Australia, where no new cases have been reported in about two weeks, Premier Steven Marshall said the state planned to allow NSW residents to cross its borders without self-isolating for 14 days from Thursday.

The CEO of the industry body Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, applauded the decision, urging other state governments to take similar actions.

“This will be welcome news to families hoping to reunite, for workers ... and for businesses like retailers who can look towards the critical Christmas period and plan with optimism,” Westacott said in a statement.

In Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews said the rise in cases was likely a result of increased testing over the weekend.

“Extra positive cases because of a higher testing rate will not hold us back,” Andrews told reporters. “It’s very challenging, but this does take some time, because the nature of this virus is there is that latency, there is that lag.”

Reporting by Paulina Duran in Sydney; Editing by Himani Sarkar

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