Australia's COVID-19 hotspot sees active cases fall to 4-month low

Australia's Victoria state - the epicentre of the country's COVID-19 outbreak - on Friday reported that active coronavirus cases have fallen to a four-month low, paving the way for an acceleration in the easing of social distancing curbs.

The nation's second-most populous state, which recorded just one new infection in the past 24 hours, said there are now 100 active cases - the lowest since June 19.

"This is a good number. This is a very clear sign that the strategy is working," Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.

The active infections are a relief to state authorities amid heightened fears of a fresh cluster after a case in a school in Melbourne's northern suburbs prompted authorities to order 800 people to self-isolate.

However, with new case numbers in single digits for nine consecutive days, Andrews is expected to announce on Sunday an accelerated timetable for easing restrictions in a boost to Australia's ailing economy.

Melbourne's roughly 5 million residents were granted more freedom to move about on Monday after a months-long lockdown, but public gatherings remain tightly limited and retailers and restaurants must operate only on take-away or delivery orders.

Australia has recorded just over 27,400 COVID-19 infections, far fewer than many other developed countries. Victoria accounts for more than 90% of the 905 deaths nationally.

States are on heightened alert for possible outbreaks emerging from overseas despite international borders remaining closed.

In Queensland state, authorities said on Thursday they are considering their options after two members on a freighter tested positive for COVID-19.

The ship was blocked from docking in Brisbane after New Zealand authorities alerted Australian officials earlier this week that the vessel’s crew could be infected with a new strain of the virus.

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