MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Lockdown restrictions in Australia’s state of Victoria will ease very slightly as of Monday, state officials said, as the number of new daily coronavirus cases continued to fall in the country’s hotspot.
Announcing a A$3 billion ($2.2 billion) package in financial aid to businesses in Victoria, home to a quarter of Australia’s population, officials also said there were 41 new coronavirus infections on Sunday and seven more deaths.
The numbers confirm a steady downward trend from a peak of more than 700 cases in a single day in early August. Victoria accounts for about 75% of Australia’s more than 26,600 COVID-19 cases and its capital, Melbourne, has been under strict lockdown for several weeks.
The city will remain under hard lockdown, but the amount of time people will be able to spend outside will double to two hours per day and the overnight curfew will be shortened by an hour as of Monday.
“They are small steps, but that’s what’s safe, absolutely appropriate, with numbers still coming down, but (remaining) too high to open up,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told a televised briefing.
Businesses, primarily hospitality, retail and tourism firms, which have been either fully closed or had operations substantially scaled down, will have access to grants and tax relief through the state’s largest business support package so far, he announced.
“It is unprecedented because the challenge we face is unprecedented,” Andrews said. “No one is enjoying the reality we face, but none of us have the option of ignoring the reality that we face.”
Victoria accounts for about a quarter of Australia’s annual economic output.
In neighbouring New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, where social distancing rules are much more relaxed and retailers and restaurants are allowed to open, officials recorded nine new cases of the novel coronavirus on Sunday.
($1 = 1.3731 Australian dollars)
Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Christopher Cushing