Australia's Victoria state nears first COVID-19 vaccination goal


FILE PHOTO: A healthcare professional administers a dose of the Pfizer coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine to Dr Chris Quinn as high-risk workers receive the first vaccines in the state of Victoria's rollout of the program, in Melbourne, Australia, February 22, 2021. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's Victoria state reported a second consecutive daily fall in new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday as its first-dose vaccination rate neared the 70% level where some curbs imposed to contain an outbreak of the Delta variant will be eased.

Authorities have promised to double the travel limit for 5 million residents in locked-down Melbourne, the state capital, to 10 km (6 miles) and allow an extra hour of outdoor exercise when the state hits that inoculation target.

With around 68% of the state's adults having received a first vaccine dose, it is likely to reach 70% this week as new supplies are rolled out, about a week ahead of schedule.

Victoria reported 423 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases, down from 445 on Tuesday, and two new deaths.

Australia is struggling to quell a third wave of infections that has hit its two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, and the capital Canberra, forcing nearly half the country's 25 million people into strict stay-at-home restrictions.

Sydney, the epicenter of the Delta outbreak, recorded its lowest case numbers in nearly two weeks on Tuesday, although authorities said it was still unclear if infections had peaked.

Sydney and Melbourne have shifted their focus to rapid vaccinations to begin relaxing restrictions, moving away from an earlier COVID-zero strategy.

A four-stage national reopening plan unveiled by the federal government in July urges states and territories to live with the virus once vaccinations cover 70%-80% of the adult population. Around 43% of adults have been fully vaccinated nationally.

Despite the recent Delta outbreaks, Australia's coronavirus numbers are relatively low, with some 77,000 cases and 1,104 deaths.

(Reporting by Renju Jose; editing by Jane Wardell)

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