* Two most populous states to ease border restrictions
* NSW state records 11th day of zero local COVID-19 cases
* Victoria state records 22nd day of zero local cases
* The state of Queensland will reopen the border with NSW
* Victoria suggests moving Sydney to the “green zone”
(Lead Recasts, NZ Travel Bubble Suspension)
By Swati Pandey
SYDNEY, Jan.28 (Reuters) – Coronavirus-induced border restrictions separating Australia’s three most populous states should be eased, authorities said on Thursday, as the country recorded its 11th consecutive day of zero COVID cases -19.
Australian states have imposed quarantine restrictions and strict borders on travelers from the state of New South Wales (NSW) after an outbreak in Sydney at the end of December, throwing holiday plans into chaos Christmas for thousands of Australians.
Sydney’s clusters have now been brought to a halt, giving other states, which have not recorded any coronavirus cases, the confidence to reopen borders.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said on Thursday that her northeastern state would welcome residents of NSW from February 1.
“I want to see families and friends reunited,” Palaszczuk said at a televised press conference.
The south-eastern state of Victoria, which hosts the Australian Open tennis grand slam, has hinted it may change border settings with Sydney on Friday. The state on Thursday recorded its 22nd day of zero local cases.
Victoria introduced a permit system for all travelers that allows interstate areas to be designated as green, orange or red depending on their risk.
Travelers from a red zone are not allowed to enter Victoria while those in the orange zone will be required to take a coronavirus test within three days of arrival.
“I hope to have no red zones in NSW by the end of tomorrow, a much larger green zone, but there may be remnants of a few areas that remain orange,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said.
Australia has reported more than 22,000 local cases of COVID-19 and 909 deaths since March.
The country, which closed international borders at the start of the pandemic and imposed strict lockdowns and social distancing measures, ranked in the top 10 in a COVID performance index for its successful management of the disease. Zealand ranked No.1 on the index but is currently investigating new cases of COVID-19 in the community linked to the South African viral strain which is deemed to be highly contagious.
The cases have prompted Australia to extend the suspension of its non-quarantine travel with its trans-Tasman neighbor until Sunday.
“This allows the Australian people to continue to be protected, as the extent of the situation in New Zealand continues to be clarified,” Australia’s Acting Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said.
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