COVID-19 cases ease in Australia’s Victoria as lockdown decisions loom

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Australia’s Victoria state looks set to come out of a hard COVID-19 lockdown as planned on Tuesday after reporting fewer new cases, while neighbouring New South Wales rushed to trace thousands after detecting fresh virus clusters.

A busy shopping mall in Sydney’s southwest has been added to virus exposure sites and anyone who visited at any time over a 10-day period has been classified as a close contact who should test and self isolate for two weeks.

Sydney, Australia’s largest city and state capital of New South Wales, is into its fifth week of a lockdown to contain an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant.

The lockdown is due to end on Friday but strict stay-home rules could be extended further as daily new cases have stubbornly remained above a hundred, with many still active in the community while infectious.

Victoria detected 10 new local cases, down from 11 a day earlier, with all infections linked to the latest outbreak and in quarantine throughout their entire infectious period.

South Australia, which also registered infections from the Sydney outbreak, is on track to exit its week-long lockdown on Wednesday.

With many businesses shut, the national government estimates the lockdowns could cost the economy about A$300 million ($220 million) daily.

Despite the hit to the economy, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told the Australian newspaper it was premature to talk about a potential recession for an economy that had roared back to pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter.Swift contact tracing, tough social distancing rules and lockdowns have helped Australia to keep its COVID-19 numbers low, with just under 33,100 cases and 920 deaths since the pandemic first appeared in early 2020.