George Russell in Hong Kong
Australia is on track to economic reopening despite a brutal second wave of coronavirus concentrated in Victoria, its second-most populous state, prime minister Scott Morrison said at the weekend.
Victoria on Sunday recorded just 14 new coronavirus cases in the previous 24 hours, the lowest daily level in more than three months. The state chief health officer, Brett Sutton, said Victoria was on the “home stretch” towards ending a strict lockdown.
However, the state, with 25 per cent of the country’s population, accounts for 761 deaths, more than 85 per cent of the national total.
On Sunday, Mr Morrison hailed the latest national unemployment data, which showed the rate unexpectedly fell from a high of 7.5 per cent in July to 6.8 per cent in August.
He said it was difficult to foresee if unemployment would continue to fall.
“The figures that came out this week were a pleasant encouragement in terms of their improvement but for those who still don’t have a job, that is no comfort to them,” he told state broadcaster ABC’s Insiders programme.
Mr Morrison said the jobless data show Australia is on the right track in rebuilding its coronavirus-shattered economy, which went into recession for the first time in nearly three decades.
The apparent ease in the pandemic will mean Australia would toughen its eligibility rules for JobSeeker, the unemployment benefit plan that the government hopes to scale down. More than 1m Australians who rely on the payment will have to prove they are applying for eight jobs a month.
On Friday, Mr Morrison compared the 12.2 per cent June quarter gross domestic product contraction in New Zealand, which imposed a harsh lockdown, with the 7 per cent drop in Australia, which has seen more relaxed measures and several anti-lockdown protests, pictured.
New Zealand officials point out that there have been 1,800 coronavirus cases and 25 deaths among its 5m people, while Australia has recorded 26,882 cases and 884 deaths among 25m.