SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s second-largest state, Victoria, once a COVID-19 hotspot in the country, said on Friday it had passed 28 days without detecting any new infections, a benchmark widely cited as removing the virus from communities. .
The state also has zero active cases after the last COVID-19 patient was discharged from hospital this week, away from August when Victoria recorded more than 700 cases in one day and active infections numbered nearly 8,000.
The spread of the virus can only be contained after a lockdown that lasts more than 100 days, leaving an estimated 5 million people in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, largely confined to their homes.
While the lockdown has seen infections easing, it has slowed Australia’s economic recovery from its first recession in three decades after much of the country’s economy closed in March.
Australia’s economy shrank 7% in the three months to the end of June, the biggest quarterly decline since records began in 1959. The unemployment rate hit a 22-year high of 7.5% in July as businesses and borders were closed to deal with the coronavirus.
However, the slowdown in some cases has seen Australian states and territories lift social distancing restrictions.
Australia’s southern island state of Tasmania on Friday became the latest to open its borders to Victoria, reuniting families who have been apart for months.
“It is very difficult, but we will make up for it. We will go to the beach and have some lovely Tasmanian seafood and some pinot noir, ”Allison Park, a Victorian resident visiting family in Tasmania, told reporters in the city of Hobart after arriving by plane from Melbourne.
Victoria is the last state to gain access to Tasmania, which closed its borders in March.
While Australia is removing restrictions in contrast to other countries in Europe, which impose restrictions to fight a surge in infections, local lawmakers say only an effective vaccine will restore long-standing normalcy.
Australia has had access to four vaccine candidates, but its best hope for a rapid vaccination program lies in the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is already produced locally.
The Australian Government has committed to purchasing 33.8 million doses of the vaccine.
AstraZeneca’s rapid launch came under the microscope, however, as the company said it was likely to run additional global trials to assess the efficacy of its COVID-19 vaccine.
However, Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said this would not delay the timetable that Canberra hopes to start vaccinations from March.
Australia’s nearly 28,000 COVID-19 infections recorded to date, according to health ministry data, are far fewer than many other developed countries. Victoria accounts for more than 90% of the country’s 905 deaths.
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