Australia’s Victoria state reaches lower infection milestone

(Reuters) – Australia’s city of Melbourne, capital of the coronavirus hotspot state of Victoria, on Wednesday reported the lowest two-week average of new cases after a second contagion wave that led to one of the world’s toughest lockdowns.

For the first time since the second coronavirus outbreak caused more than 800 deaths in the state – more than 90% of the country’s 897 virus-related deaths – the two-week average has fallen below 10.

The metric is key as officials in the second-most-populous state are reluctant to ease mobility restrictions until the rolling average in the two-week window falls below five.

“The strategy is working,” premier Daniel Andrews told reporters at his daily briefing. “Its success is pinned ultimately to whether symptomatic people come forward and get tested.”

Australia has so far reported more than 27,000 COVID-19 cases, with Victoria accounting for about 75% of infections. In the previous 24 hours, the state had found six new cases and reported two more deaths, Andrews said.

In the neighboring New South Wales (NSW) state, the most populous, officials found three new locally transmitted infections overnight, putting an end to a 11-day run of zero such cases.

“It is a concern when you have a handful of community transmission, but … we’re always going to have cases pop up because we’re in a pandemic, but we’re also in an economy which is open where people are undertaking their business,” NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters.

Although the number of deaths and infections in Australia from COVID-19 has been low compared with many other countries, the outbreak has driven the country to its deepest economic slump on record.

On Tuesday, Australia’s conservative government unveiled billions in fiscal stimulus as part of plans to boost jobs and help its economy out of its historic recession.

Its budget assumes the country will be able to contain COVID-19 outbreaks by the end of the year, the majority of its inter-state borders will be reopened, and a vaccine will be developed in 2021.