Victoria said the daily rise in coronavirus infections eased further on Thursday, as the state began relaxing most restrictions outside Melbourne after a steady drop in cases in recent days.
The state reported 28 new cases and eight deaths from the virus in the last 24 hours. It reported 42 cases and eight deaths a day earlier.
Average cases in Melbourne, which is on an extended hard lockdown until September 28, was below 50 on Wednesday, the benchmark the state has set to start easing curbs.
The stringent curbs in Melbourne have led to three lawsuits against the state, including two class actions blaming the outbreak of Victoria’s second wave of infections on the government’s poor management of hotel quarantine.
An epidemiologist last month told a judicial inquiry into Victoria’s hotel quarantine that nearly all of the state’s second wave of cases could be traced back to returned travellers in two hotels in May and June.
Lawyer Tony Carbone has filed a class action on behalf of workers who lost jobs, people who have suffered mentally and those who contracted COVID-19 in Melbourne’s second lockdown.
“The class of people we are representing find themselves in the predicament they’re in because of the government’s mishandling of the returned travellers and bungled hotel quarantine programme,” said Carbone.
Australia has reported nearly 26,800 coronavirus cases and 824 deaths, with Victoria accounting for the bulk of both.
Most of the country’s cases have been traced back to returned travellers. Daily limits have been imposed on the number allowed to return from overseas and arrivals must quarantine in a hotel for 14 days.
However with 25,000 Australians stranded overseas, the national government on Wednesday pressed states to raise caps and open up regional airports to international flights, so a further 2,000 a week could return, raising the weekly total to 6,000.
“I want to make sure that more Australians can return home. There are some heart-wrenching stories,” Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said.
In a further hit due to the tight borders, Australian National University in Canberra said it needed to axe 215 jobs on top of 250 already cut to reduce costs, and the University of New South Wales said it would have to shed 256 jobs, taking it to a total of 493 cuts this year.
The country’s universities depend heavily fee-paying international students, many of whom have been unable to enter Australia since March.
Reporting by Renju Jose.