MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The Labor Party in Australia’s Queensland state was on track on Saturday to retain power in an election overshadowed by COVID-19, with voters approving the strict measures that put the state at odds with the national government.
Final results were expected late into Saturday night, but a partial count showed Labor was polling well at a primary vote of 40.8% with the Liberal National Party on 34.2%, according to the Electoral Commission of Queensland.
“The early numbers are strong, but it’s a little early to call,” Wayne Swan, the president of the Australian Labor Party said, according to local media.
Annastacia Palaszczuk, the premier of the country’s third-most populous state, has adopted stringent anti-virus controls, including the closure of state borders, causing friction with Prime Minister Scott Morrison who wants internal borders open to boost an economic recovery.
Morrison, leader of the centre-right Liberal Party, on Saturday backed Palaszczuk’s opponent Deb Frecklington, leader of the Liberal National Party of Queensland.
“Australia needs Queensland to return to the powerhouse state it once was,” Morrison said in a video message on Facebook.
At the same time, residents in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, on Saturday enjoyed their first weekend of relative freedom after an almost four-month lockdown as coronavirus case numbers continued to dwindle.
As Melburnians have flocked to parks, tennis courts, restaurants and shops, officials reported no new COVID-19 cases in Victoria state and no deaths, saying that further tests on an earlier reported case confirmed it was not an infection.
That compares to an average daily new cases of around 700 in July and early August, which made it Australia’s pandemic hotspot. “We need to enjoy our lives after three months of really constrained activity,” Victoria Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton told a news conference on Saturday.
Australia has fared much better than many countries in managing the pandemic, recording just over 27,500 cases and 907 deaths since the start of the year. As of Friday, there were just under 200 active cases.
The government announced on Saturday it would spend A$500 million ($350 million) over the next three years to help Pacific and Southeast Asian countries roll out vaccination programs to against COVID-19.
The government has agreements with Britain’s AstraZeneca Plc and Australia’s University of Queensland for potential vaccines and has pledged free immunisation to all Australians and donations to regional partners.
Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Jane Wardell and William Mallard
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