Australian COVID-19 infections hit one-month low

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia on Tuesday recorded its lowest one-day rise in new COVID-19 infections in a month, buoying hopes that a stringent lockdown in the country’s second-most populous state has prevented a fresh wave of cases nationally.

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Led by cases in Victoria state - the epicentre of Australia’s latest COVID-19 outbreak - Australia said it has detected 226 new infections in the past 24 hours, the lowest since July 18 when 212 cases were recorded.

The national figure is well below the more than 700 infections detected in a single day earlier this month, almost all of which were in Victoria.

“We have seen numbers going up and down recently, but by and large what we are seeing is a continuing downward trend,” Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd told reporters in Canberra.

Australia has now recorded nearly 24,000 cases of COVID-19, while the death toll rose to 438 after 17 people in Victoria died from the virus in the last 24 hours.

The slowdown in new infections comes two weeks after the Victorian capital Melbourne imposed a nightly curfew, tightened restrictions on movement and ordered large parts of the state’s economy to close.

Australia’s biggest biotech company CSL Ltd, meanwhile, said it was in talks with AstraZeneca to determine if the potential COVID-19 vaccine being developed by the British drugmaker could be manufactured locally.

“We are assessing the viability of options ranging from the fill and finish of bulk product imported to Australia through to manufacture of the vaccine candidate under licence,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement.

The government on Sunday said it was close to striking a deal that would permit the production of a vaccine in Australia, likely in 2021.

Still, officials urged people to continue practising social distancing and to wear a mask if in a crowded venue.

Masks are only mandatory in Victoria, and many people in other states continue to shun health advice. Sydney bus drivers on Tuesday said they would strike for 48 hours if face coverings were not made mandatory.

Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Richard Pullin and Stephen Coates