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World News

Australia's government squabbles with states over easing restrictions as virus cases decline

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s conservative government clashed with state lawmakers on Thursday over how fast to relax social distancing restrictions, as the number of new COVID-19 cases showed a steady decline.

Pedestrians walk past a homeless man in the city centre as the state of New South Wales continues to report low numbers for new daily cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, August 19, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

Australia in March created a national cabinet which includes federal, state and territory leaders to coordinate measures to stop the disease spreading, closing international and domestic borders, suspending schools and closing businesses.

The steps taken have helped Australia record far fewer COVID-19 infections and deaths than many other developed nations, and the divisions in the national cabinet are emerging at time when the infection rate is coming down.

The federal government is now struggling to persuade states to relax restrictions in order to get the economy moving, especially after Victoria suffered a second wave of infections last month.

On Thursday, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Victoria - the epicentre of the country’s COVID-19 outbreak - should consider lifting a night curfew, just days after the state kept the curfew among other tough measures extended until Sept. 28.

And Queenland’s state premier snapped back at Prime Minister Scott Morrison, after he chided the state for refusing to let a woman from a virus-free part of the country attend the funeral of her father.

“To use the tragedy of this personal family is disgusting,” Queensland state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told state lawmakers in Brisbane.

“I will not be bullied nor will I be intimidated by the prime minister of this country.”

Australia on Thursday reported 58 new cases in the past 24 hours, down on the 76 infections detected on Wednesday.

Victoria accounted for the bulk of the cases, with 51 cases, well down on the more than 700 infections recorded in one day in early August.

Home to one-quarter of Australia’s 25 million population, Victoria accounts for about 75% of the country’s more than 26,000 COVID-19 cases and 90% of its 788 deaths.

Reporting by Renju Jose; editing by Chris Reese, Richard Pullin & Simon Cameron-Moore

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