SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s two most populous states on Thursday refused to allow a one-day reprieve from strict limits on personal movement for Mother’s Day this weekend, even as the country’s rate of new coronavirus cases remains low.
The premiers of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria said the states’ roughly 14 million residents, 56% of the country’s population, would have to stick to existing restrictions on movement on Mother’s Day, which is celebrated nationally on Sunday.
“Whilst national cabinet is considering easing some restrictions from Friday in terms of the national guidelines, I doubt very much that NSW will be in a position to implement anything before Mother’s Day,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Thursday.
“We will be able to visit them, two adults and children at any one time, and of course that can happen multiple times a day as long as everybody is careful.”
NSW recently eased a stay-at-home order to allow social visits in groups of up to two, while some other states have also taken tentative steps to unwind lockdown measures, but most have kept restrictions broadly in place.
Australia has confirmed just under 6,900 COVID-19 cases, including 97 deaths. Twenty new infections were reported across four states on Thursday, the bulk linked to an outbreak at a meat processing plant in Victoria. The rate could rise as other states and territories report during the day.
The federal government has said it will discuss the possible relaxation of nationwide “social distancing” rules on Friday at a meeting of an emergency cabinet formed to deal with the crisis, which includes state leaders.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has made increased testing and the downloading of a contact tracing smartphone app prerequisites for relaxing restrictions.
About 700,000 of the country’s 25 million people have been tested for the virus. About 5.2 million people have downloaded the tracking app, Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Thursday, just half the government’s 10 million target.
“The last thing we want to do is to ease off any of those restrictions without a sense of confidence that we are truly on top of this,” Victorian premier Daniel Andrews said, adding that he would not visit his mother on Sunday. “Nobody is enjoying these settings, I understand that.”
In Tasmania state, Premier Peter Gutwein said “the best present that you can provide for your mother is to keep her safe”.
Queensland state broke away to allow up to five adults to visit a private home on Sunday, but Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said other restrictions remained firmly in place.
“You can’t go shopping, you can’t go to the beach, you can’t can’t go further in that community, it’s all about one household meeting with another household,” she said.
Reporting by Byron Kaye and Swati Pandey; Editing by Jane Wardell