Australia set for 10th day of no local COVID-19 cases

By Swati Pandey

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia is on track for a 10th day of no new local COVID-19 cases on Wednesday with its most populous state of New South Wales (NSW) hoping to ease coronavirus restrictions this week after controlling a fast-spreading cluster.

Australia’s most populous state 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.

Other states and territories which have mostly been COVID-free, some for months, will report daily case numbers later on Wednesday, but are expected to report zero local infections.

Australia’s success in curbing small outbreaks, with a total 22,000 local cases since March 2020 and 909 deaths, comes at a time when global coronavirus cases are edging towards 100 million with the death toll surpassing 2 million.

An advertising campaign will be launched later on Wednesday to encourage people to take the COVID-19 vaccine after the country’s regulator this week approved the Pfizer-BioNtech shot. A rollout is expected in late-February.

NSW made masks mandatory in indoor venues such as shopping centres and cinemas, imposed a cap on public gatherings while suspending dance floors even for night clubs to successfully curb outbreaks in Sydney’s northern beaches and western suburbs.

The outbreaks saw other states and territories close borders or restrict travel from NSW.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklien told the Australian Broadcasting Corp she hoped to receive medical advice later in the day that would allow her to ease restrictions this week.

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“In New South Wales our policy always is don’t keep restrictions or burden our citizens a day longer than you need to. I’m hoping to have confirmation of advice that allows us to announce that later this week,” she said.

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 had a one-way “travel bubble” with New Zealand where those arriving from the latter didn’t have to quarantine, but that arrangement was suspended for 72 hours on Monday after a highly infectious coronavirus strain was found in New Zealand.

(Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Michael Perry)

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