Australian state borders to reopen with zero local virus cases


FILE PHOTO: People wait in line at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing clinic at Mona Vale Hospital in the wake of a new outbreak in the Northern Beaches area of Sydney, Australia, December 18, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's most populous state of New South Wales recorded its 11th day of zero local coronavirus cases on Thursday, allowing neighbouring Queensland state to lift border restrictions while Victoria state also hinted at relaxing travel with Sydney.

Australian states imposed quarantine or hard border restrictions for travellers from New South Wales (NSW) after an outbreak in Sydney in late December, throwing Christmas holiday plans of thousands of Australians into chaos.

The Sydney clusters have now been curbed, giving other states the confidence to reopen borders. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said her state would welcome NSW residents from Feb.1.

"I want to see families and friends reunited," Palaszczuk said in a televised news conference.

"We know how important that New South Wales market is, so for those viewers currently in Sydney and you're looking for an escape, there is no better place than the tropical far north."

The south eastern state of Victoria, which is hosting the Australia Open tennis grand slam, too hinted at changing border settings with Sydney on Friday. The state recorded its 22nd day of zero local cases.

Victoria introduced a permit system for all travellers which allows for areas to be designated as green, orange or red according to their risk.

Travellers from a red zone are not permitted into Victoria while those from orange zone will need to take a coronavirus test within three days of arrival.

"I'd hope to have by the end of tomorrow no red zones in New South Wales, a much larger green zone but there may be some remnants of a couple of areas that remain orange," Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said.

Australia has reported more than 22,000 local COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths since March.

The country, which closed international borders early in the pandemic and imposed lockdowns and strict social distancing measures, has ranked among the top 10 in a COVID performance index for its successful handling of the disease.

(Reporting by Swati Pandey;Editing by Michael Perry)

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