Australian Labor Party claims victory in COVID-dominated race in Queensland

FILE PHOTO: People dine at a cafe after coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions were eased for the state of Victoria, in Melbourne, Australia, October 28, 2020. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The Australian Labor Party in Queensland claimed it has retained power in a coronavirus-overshadowed election on Saturday, with voters backing the strict social distancing measures that have estranged the state from the national government.

Queensland’s Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk became the nation’s first woman to win three terms, and with counting to continue on Sunday, Labor was on track to hold as many as 49 seats in the 93-seat parliament, up one on its previous number.

Palaszczuk has adopted stringent anti-virus controls, including the closure of state borders, causing friction with Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison who wants internal borders open to boost an economic recovery.

“Here in Queensland we’ve all stood strong and united,” Palaszczuk said in her victory speech. “We stared down critics and we have come out of it all the better for it.”

The first major state election during the coronavirus pandemic, after votes in two of Australia’s territories earlier this year, has been seen as a barometer on preferences on how to handle the pandemic.

Queensland, the country’s third-most populous state with a population of around five million, has recorded just under 1,200 total coronavirus cases this year and six related deaths.

The election came after the state of Victoria last week ended most of its 111-day lockdown restrictions and a recent Ipsos poll commissioned by The Age newspaper and Nine News showed Victorians backing the state’s tough handling of the pandemic.

Victoria, Australia, a coronavirus hot spot which accounts for more than 90% of Australia’s 907 coronavirus-related deaths, on Sunday recorded zero new daily infections and no deaths for the second consecutive day.

Australia has fared much better in managing the coronavirus pandemic than a majority of the world’s countries, recording a total of just over 27,500 infections - or less than a third of the new daily cases seen in the United States on Friday.

Reporting by Lidia Kelly; editing by Jonathan Oatis