Australia recorded a 10th straight day of no new local COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, allowing its most populous state of New South Wales (NSW) to relax coronavirus restrictions after controlling a fast-spreading cluster.
NSW has recorded no local cases for 10 days after low single digit numbers earlier in January. Victoria state, which is hosting the Australia Open tennis tournament, has gone three weeks without a local case.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt tweeted Wednesday marked the 10th day of no community transmission of COVID-19 Australia wide, adding the country’s success comes at a time when global coronavirus cases have crossed 100 million with the death toll surpassing 2 million.
Australia has recorded more than 22,000 local cases since the pandemic began and 909 deaths.
The COVID-free run allowed NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklien to ease coronavirus restrictions from Friday, including relaxing rules around mask wearing and increasing numbers in house parties, weddings, funerals and places of worship.
The restrictions had kicked in late last year to successfully curb virus clusters in Sydney’s northern beaches and western suburbs. The outbreaks saw other states and territories close borders or restrict travel from NSW.
Berejiklien hinted that restrictions would be eased further in two weeks if there were no further cases, adding she was “striking the right balance” between economic growth and virus control.
“They both go hand in hand, you can’t have an open economy unless you make sure you get the health settings right,” she said, while urging Sydneysiders to come out and get tested for COVID-19 even for the “mildest of symptoms”.
Despite its relative success in handling the pandemic, Australia’s international borders will likely remain shut to non-citizens this year although there may be exclusive travel arrangements called “bubbles” with its South Pacific neighbours.
Australia suspended a one-way “travel bubble” which allowed New Zealanders entry after a highly infectious coronavirus strain was found in New Zealand.
New Zealand on Wednesday reported two more cases of the South African variant, both returned travellers in hotel quarantine who had previously returned negative test following their 14-day isolation. New Zealand has reported zero community transmission cases in the past three days.
Australia would make a decision on whether or not to lift the ‘trans-Tasman bubble’ suspension on Thursday.