Australia's Victoria state eyes accelerating easing of COVID-19 curbs

By Colin Packham

SYDNEY, Oct 20 (Reuters) - Australia's Victoria state may accelerate the easing of social distancing restrictions after reporting just one new COVID-19 case on Tuesday, Premier Daniel Andrews said on Tuesday.

Case numbers were down from four on Monday, extending a run of single-digit daily increases to almost a week, and are well down from a peak of more than 700 cases in a single day in early August.

Andrews said it was not immediately clear if the case reported on Monday was still an active infection, saying the person had tested positive earlier and may be shedding the virus.

"This could potentially be a day of zero and it's been a long time since we had a day of zero," Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.

Melbourne's roughly 5 million residents were granted some more freedom to move about on Monday after a months-long lockdown, with time limits on exercising outdoors removed and allowed travel limits extended to 25 kilometres (15 miles) of their homes.

However, public gatherings remain tightly limited and retailers and restaurants must operate only on take-away or delivery orders, with Nov. 1 set for the next major step to lift restrictions.

"I think we're well placed to reach the point on the weekend where we can talk more and possibly bring forward some of those changes," said Andrews.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants Melbourne to reopen more quickly, citing its importance to the national economy.

Morrison has highlighted the fact that neighbouring New South Wales state has much looser restrictions despite reporting more cases in recent days. NSW reported five new cases on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, officials will evacuate 24 people with COVID-19 from a livestock carrier docked at Western Australia's Fremantle Port and place them in hotel quarantine amid concerns for the health of the remainder of the ship's 52 crew.

Australia has recorded just over 27,300 COVID-19 infections far fewer than many other developed countries. Victoria accounts for more than 90% of the 905 deaths nationally.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; editing by Jane Wardell)

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