Australia to resume tourism to bushfire-hit Victoria as virus cases stay low

FILE PHOTO: Police officers patrol near the Sydney Opera House following the implementation of stricter social-distancing and self-isolation rules to limit the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

MELBOURNE, May 24 (Reuters) – Australia set out measures to resume tourism to Victoria’s rural regions, ravaged by bushfires and then the coronavirus, after a testing blitz in the country’s second-most populous state showed continuing low cases of community transmission.

Tourists will be able to stay overnight from June 1 in regional areas in the southern state of Victoria, where “tourism is such an important part, especially for bushfire-affected communities”, state Premier Daniel Andrews said on Sunday.

Victoria will open up ski fields from June 22, with strict rules around hygiene, density and without shared facilities.

“This is all about opening up again, but doing so because we have got some new test results, and we can be confident about how much virus is out there in the Victorian community.”

Victoria, which reported one case overnight after nine new cases to Saturday, has conducted more than 420,000 tests since the start of the year, and 174,000 this month, more than a week ahead of a schedule set by health officials.

Health minister, Jenny Mikakos, said community transmission remained low and that an expanded testing programme would continue into year end. Victoria has reported 1,593 cases in total, of which 180 are community transmissions.

Victoria’s testing rate is 6,340 per 100,000 people, which if it were a nation, would be the sixth highest for testing in the world, she added.

In the most populous state of New South Wales, only one case was recorded overnight, bringing the total to 3,085. Australia has reported 7,095 cases and 102 deaths.

In Victoria and New South Wales, where schools are set to reopen next week, playgrounds and skate parks will also be able to reopen from Tuesday, Premier Andrews added.

In Queensland, Australia’s third-most populous state, one new case was recorded overnight. Officials announced a $50 million investment into community sports from June 12.