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Inching toward normal life, Australian states ease some COVID-19 curbs

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By Lidia Kelly

Australia moved a step closer to normal life on Sunday, opening some internal borders and easing restrictions in regions affected by COVID-19, as the vast majority of the country has seen no new community infections or deaths for weeks.

South Australia, which last week became the epicenter of the country's infections, reported no new community cases and lifted a drastic lockdown earlier than planned, with the state premier saying swift action had avoided disaster.

The number of active cases in the state stood at 37 after an outbreak linked to a returned traveller from Britain forced 4,500 people to quarantine.

"We have avoided a catastrophic situation in our state by following the unequivocal health advice," Premier Steven Marshall told a news briefing.

Mask-wearing outdoors, which until now has been mandatory, is no longer required where social distancing is possible. Masks will still have to be worn indoors and carried at all times. Home gatherings of up to 15 people will be allowed and up to 50 people can gather outdoors. Up to 150 people will be allowed at weddings, funerals or indoor religious services.

Neighboring Victoria, which for months fought the pandemic and where 90% of Australia's 907 coronavirus-related deaths have been recorded, relaxed its mask rules on Sunday, saying they are not required outside, and allowed larger public gatherings.

The state, home to about 6.4 million people, has had no new infections for 23 days, a victory that came after a 111-day lockdown that kept people at home and most businesses shut.

New South Wales, the most populous state with a quarter of Australia's 24 million people, reported no new community cases on Sunday for a 15th straight day. The state will open its border with Victoria on Monday.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said, "We never want to see this ever again. We hope this is the last time that in our lifetime this border is closed."

There were 12 new cases reported across Australia among travelers in hotel quarantine. The country, which closed its external borders early, limits international arrivals and requires a two-week hotel quarantine for arriving travelers.

With just over 27,800 cases, Australia has done better than most other developed nations in combating COVID-19, thanks to its aggressive response. On Sunday, there were an estimated 88 cases active throughout the country.

© Thomson Reuters 2020/The Associated Press

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

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