REUTERS (Reuters) - A small coronavirus cluster has emerged at a meat factory in the Australian state of Victoria, health officials said on Saturday, as parts of the country started easing social distancing restrictions after suppressing the infection rate to below 1 %.
Australia and neighbouring New Zealand, which have closed borders and imposed lockdowns and tight social restrictions, have been hailed for containing COVID-19 outbreaks, but the measures are set to push both economies into recession.
Over the past week Australia has recorded an average of only 13 new cases each day, the health ministry said.
Local clusters of COVID-19 and cruise ships infections have accounted for a large percentage of Australia’s nearly 6,800 cases and 93 deaths.
Victoria reported seven new cases on Saturday, three of which were related to a meat-processing facility, said its health minister. A total of eight employees have tested positive.
In Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales (NSW) two out of five new cases were recorded at the Newmarch aged care facility in Sydney, where about 60 people have been infected and 13 died.
New Zealand, which had imposed a total lockdown for all its ciitzens, recorded one new death on Saturday, bringing the toll to 20. There were two new confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections on Saturday, that raised the total to 1,134.
The Australian government will meet next Friday, a week ahead of schedule, to decide whether to ease social distancing restrictions, as the numbers of new infections dwindle and pressure mounts for business and schools to reopen..
Some of Australia’s states and territories have already moved this week to ease social distancing rules, to a various degree, reopening parks and allowing for more gatherings and social activities.
But the state of Victoria is not expected to ease its measures before a state of emergency expires on May 11.
On Saturday, Australia’s National Rugby League cleared another key step in the plan to resume their 2020 season before the end of the month when the New Zealand Warriors team was given permission to enter the country.
NSW said on Saturday it will reopen some beauty salons for purchases only, not services. NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said that a gradual loosening of “onerous” restrictions key to keep the virus under control.
“If we take our foot off the brake, we’ll certainly end up in deep trouble,” Hazzard said.
Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Michael Perry