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Australia heads for lowest virus count in three months

Byron Kaye
·2 mins read
Response personnel prepare to enter a public housing tower, locked down in response to a COVID-19 outbreak, in Melbourne
Response personnel prepare to enter a public housing tower, locked down in response to a COVID-19 outbreak, in Melbourne

By Byron Kaye

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia looked set to record its lowest daily increase in new coronavirus cases in three months on Sunday as a hard lockdown in the city of Melbourne brought the country's virus epicenter down sharply.

The second-most populous state Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, reported 14 new infections in the 24 hours to Sunday morning, down from 21 new cases the day prior and its lowest since June 19.

That put Victoria, which has spent months under lockdown to slow a second wave of infections, on track to meet a target of keeping average daily increases below 50 by Sept. 28 when the authorities have said they may lift restrictions.

Australia's biggest state New South Wales, which has Sydney as the capital, reported two new cases, while the Queensland state also reported two, bringing the national total to 18, the lowest national tally since June 23. The five other states and territories had not reported daily case numbers by Sunday morning, but have reported no increases most days for weeks.

"There will of course always be debates about timing and whether we're on schedule, ahead of schedule, all of those things, (but) ultimately these numbers are cause for great optimism and positivity," Victorian state Premier Daniel Andrews told a televised news conference.

Andrews, who has faced political pressure domestically for his hard-line approach to enforcing restrictions of movement, invoked recent spikes in infection rates in Europe as a warning about the possible effect of exiting the lockdown too soon.

"It's heartbreaking to see, all that those communities have given, all the sacrifice that they've made, and now they've got cases running perhaps more wildly than their first wave," he said. "You've got to see it off."

Melbourne has been under one of the toughest lockdowns in the world, including a nightly curfew, after a second outbreak in that state saw daily infection rates over 700 and prompted other states to close internal borders.

Victoria also recorded five additional deaths associated with the virus and NSW reported one new death in the prior 24 hours, taking the national death toll to 850, according to government data.

The country has reported just under 26,900 infections.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by David Gregorio and Michael Perry)