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World News

Australia state leaders defend COVID-19 curbs as cases ease

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s state leaders on Friday defended regional shutdowns and internal border closures against increased federal government pressure for restrictive coronavirus measures to be lifted as new case numbers ease.

FILE PHOTO: Walkers wear protective face masks at St Kilda pier in Melbourne after it became the first city in Australia to enforce mask-wearing in public as part of efforts to curb a resurgence of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), July 23, 2020. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders/File Photo

While infections have declined in the hot spots of the country’s second wave in recent days, many state and territory leaders have retained tough containment measures, including barring inter-state travel, fearing a fresh outbreak.

Queensland state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said border security staff were forced to make “difficult and tough decisions”, referring to a decision by state officials to refuse to let a woman from a virus-free region of the country to attend her father’s funeral.

The family’s plight has become a flashpoint for growing tensions between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state leaders over Australia’s handling of the pandemic.

Morrison had criticised decisions by Queensland officials to first bar the woman entry to the state while her father was seriously ill, and then deny her request to leave quarantine early to attend the funeral.

Morrison, who is keen to give the national economy a kickstart after it slid into its first recession in almost three decades, has also urged Victoria state to consider lifting a night curfew in Melbourne.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews has stood firm, saying it was critical to control the movement of people in the state’s capital, which has been the centre of Australia’s second wave of infections.

“If you can limit movement, then you will see less people doing the wrong thing,” said Andrews, who last week extended an initial six-week hard lockdown in Melbourne until Sept. 28.

Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, on Friday reported 43 new cases and nine deaths over the past 24 hours, continuing a steady downward trend from a peak of more than 700 cases in a single day in early August.

Victoria, home to one-quarter of Australia’s 25 million population, now accounts for about 75% of the country’s more than 26,500 COVID-19 cases and 90% of its 797 deaths.

New South Wales, the country’s most populous state, reported 10 cases, while Queensland logged two new cases. The virus has been effectively eliminated in other states and territories.

Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Chris Reese and Jane Wardell

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