Australia's COVID-19 deaths in virus hotspot fall to two-week low

FILE PHOTO: Fire Services Victoria members write each other's names on their hazmat suits as they prepare to enter a public housing tower, locked down in response to an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Melbourne, Australia, July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders/File Photo

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s second-most populous state Victoria, the epicentre for COVID-19 infections in the country, on Tuesday reported its lowest rise in virus-related deaths in two weeks as a second-wave outbreak eases.

Victoria said five people died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, the lowest one-day rise since Aug. 15, while 70 people tested positive for the novel coronavirus, a seven-week low.

The fall in the number of new cases comes as the state capital Melbourne begins its fourth week of a six-week lockdown that sees residents confined to their homes, a nightly curfew imposed and large parts of the state economy ordered to close.

The restrictions are set to be relaxed later this month, with State Premier Daniel Andrews scheduled to detail the timetable for easing curbs on Sunday.

Health officials said Victoria is expected to reduce new daily infections to near single-digits by mid-September, down from over 700 new cases a day last month, but warned the risk of new outbreaks would remain.

“There will still be cases, there will still be outbreaks. That’s why these weeks and months ahead are so important,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.

Australia has recorded nearly 26,000 COVID-19 infections and 657 fatalities from the virus, far fewer than many other developed countries, although restrictions to slow the spread of the virus have taken a significant toll on its economy.

Official data due on Wednesday is expected to show the country has entered its first recession in three decades, while effective unemployment is set to top 13%.

Seeking to prop up the economy, the Reserve Bank of Australia has cut rates to just 0.25% and is expected to reiterate its willingness to do more if needed at a policy meeting later on Tuesday.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Richard Pullin