An eight-week night-time curfew in place across metropolitan Melbourne was lifted on Monday as new virus cases in the Australia’s state of Victoria dropped to their lowest level since early June.
Five new coronavirus cases were recorded in Victoria, the country’s COVID-19 hotspot, in the last 24 hours.
Three deaths were reported, bringing the state’s death toll to 787 and the national figure to 875.
On Sunday, Premier Daniel Andrews announced that some of the state’s stringent coronavirus restrictions would be eased.
The 4.9 million residents across metropolitan Melbourne have been under a strict lockdown since Aug. 2 when the count of new daily cases was topping 700.
The 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew was lifted on Monday and 127,000 people were able to return to work.
Outdoor gatherings of up to five people between two households are now permitted.
While the curfew announcement was welcomed as a “small but important step,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday called for the lockdown to be further eased.
“As it stands this lockdown is already longer than that faced by residents in many cities around the world.
“We remain deeply concerned about the mental health impacts of a prolonged lockdown on Melbourne residents,” he said.
Meanwhile, a six-week inquiry into failures in Victoria’s overseas hotel quarantine program, which was partially blamed for a sharp increase in cases, came to a close on Monday.
The inquiry sought to determine who authorized underpaid security guards, rather than the defence force, to run the hotel quarantine scheme.
In final submissions, counsel assisting the inquiry Rachel Ellyard said that no one person was responsible for the decision, but Victoria police’s strong preference not to do it played a role.
“It wasn’t a specific decision by an individual or by a group. It was a creeping assumption that became the reality,” Ellyard said.
Victoria’s second wave of the coronavirus resulted in more than 18,000 new infections.
The inquiry, which is due to present its report on Nov. 6, had heard that 90 per cent of those cases could be traced back to a family of four, who were in hotel quarantine near the centre of Melbourne city.
On Monday, Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales recorded no new coronavirus cases for a second consecutive day, as did Queensland in the country’s north-east.
New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters told the Today Show early on Monday that with the right protocols, a travel bubble with Australia could be possible before Christmas.
“We are raring to go and the sooner to get going the better,” Peters said.
Both countries have had international travel restrictions in place since March.
Australia has so far reported just over 27,000 coronavirus cases.