CANBERRA – Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne, has further eased lockdown restrictions imposed after a surge in coronavirus cases, allowing most children to return to school from next month and sending more than 125,000 people back to work.
Melbourne and surrounding parts of rural Victoria state were placed under strict “Level 4” lockdowns on Aug. 2, shuttering schools and non-essential businesses, imposing a nighttime curfew and prohibiting public gatherings.
The restrictions were scheduled to be eased Sunday if the rolling 14-day average of new infections was between 30 and 50 cases. With 12 new infections reported Saturday and 16 Sunday, the 14-day average has dropped to 22.1.
That allowed Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews to confirm the 9 p.m.- 5.a.m curfew will be lifted from 5 a.m. Monday, though residents still cannot travel more than 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) from home. Public gatherings of up to five people from a maximum of two households will be allowed.
A further easing could take place on Oct. 19 if the average falls below five new cases per day. Masks remain mandatory.
Andrews said there are 399 active cases in Victoria, the first time that number has fallen below 400 since June 30.
“It’s one measure among many of the amazing performance of the Victorian community — staying apart but sticking together, making sure that we defeat this second wave,” Andrews said.
In other developments:
— Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the Australian budget, to be delivered Oct. 6, will be a “titanic effort” to return the country to economic growth amid the coronavirus pandemic. Morrison told reporters Sunday that the budget will the “most unprecedented investment in Australia’s future.” Australia’s gross domestic product shrank 7% in the quarter form April to June, the largest contraction since record-keeping began in 1959. That followed a 0.3% decline in the first quarter, meaning Australia was technically in recession for the first time in 30 years. Even before the coronavirus, the economy was affected by massive bushfires in January that hit small businesses, which depend on tourism. Business shutdowns forced by the pandemic cost almost 1 million jobs and resulted in a major reduction in household spending despite Morrison’s government providing almost $200 billion Australian dollars ($140.5 billion) in economic stimulus. Morrison said the upcoming budget “will be a titanic effort that we’re involved in to ensure that this country can get back on the growth path that we want to be on. That means we’re going to have to do some very heavy lifting in this budget and that comes at a significant cost.” Treasurer Josh Frydenbeg, who will deliver the budget speech, on Thursday provided a downbeat economic outlook. Frydenberg said the economy likely will be 6% smaller by mid-2021 than forecast at the end of last year.
— India has registered 88,600 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours in a declining trend with recoveries exceeding daily infections. The Health Ministry on Sunday also reported additional 1,124 deaths for a total of 94,503. The average of new cases has fallen by around 7,000 daily in the past week after reaching a record number of 97,894 on Sept. 16. Still, India is expected to become the pandemic’s worst-hit country within weeks, surpassing the United States, where more than 7 million people have been infected. Sunday's surge has raised the country’s virus tally to over 5.9 million. India, however, also has the highest number of recovered patients in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University. Its recovery rate stands at about 82%. Health experts have cautioned about two major events next month: the legislative election in Bihar state, with nearly 72 million people eligible to vote, and a major religious festival season that includes huge congregations.