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Australia COVID-19 hotspot records fewest cases since June

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective face mask walks in a street in Melbourne after it became the first city in Australia to enforce mask-wearing in public as part of efforts to curb a resurgence of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), July 23, 2020. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The Australian state at the center of the country’s coronavirus outbreak on Saturday reported its lowest daily increase of infections in three months, putting it on course to relax a hard lockdown in the capital city by the end of the month.

Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state and home to a quarter of its 25 million people, recorded 21 new cases of the virus that causes COVID-19 in the prior 24 hours, less than half the previous day’s number and its lowest since June 24.

“Those numbers tell a powerful story of what can be achieved when you stay the course, when you don’t get sidetracked by some of the loudest voices, who I understand are hurting and want to open up,” state Premier Daniel Andrews told a news conference.

“We would all like to open up as quickly as possible, but we won’t be open for very long if we don’t first get these numbers down to a low level.”

New South Wales, the largest state and home to largest city Sydney, reported three new cases. The six other states and territories had not reported daily case numbers on Saturday but in recent weeks they have had single-digit or zero case increases.

Victoria reported seven new COVID-19 deaths, taking the national total to 844, according to government figures. The state has had 90% of Australia’s coronavirus-related deaths.

Australia has reported just under 26,900 infections. The country had largely escaped the high casualty numbers of many others as the virus swept the world, but a second wave in Victoria put the country on high alert and prompted most states to close their internal borders.

The Victorian capital, Melbourne, has been under one of the toughest lockdowns, including a nightly curfew, but the state government has said it will let construction sites, manufacturing plants, warehouses and childcare facilities reopen on Sept. 28 if increases in average daily cases stay below 50.

Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Grant McCool and William Mallard

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