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Australian state eases restrictions for 'COVID safe' summer


MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia's Victoria state eased COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday after the country's pandemic hotspot recorded 37 days without any new coronavirus infections, moving toward a "COVID-safe" holiday season.

From midnight on Sunday, up to 100 people will be able to attend public gatherings such as weddings, with density rules of one person per two square metres remaining in place, while 50% of office workers will be able to return to workplaces by Jan. 11, up from 25% now, the state's premier said.

"Today we can take some big steps, not to normal, but to a COVID-safe summer (but) we all need to remain vigilant and we all need to play our part," Premier Daniel Andrews told a news conference.

Masks will remain mandatory at indoor venues and on public and ride-share transport, he said.

Public health concerns eased after two travellers who returned from Germany, bypassing quarantine in Sydney to travel straight to Melbourne, returned negative COVID-19 tests.

All passengers on the Saturday afternoon domestic flight between the two cities and some airport staff must remain in self-quarantine until the results from a second test arrive on Monday, a health official said.

Australia recorded 7 new cases overnight, all returned travellers.

The country has all but stamped out the coronavirus through strict quarantine measures, particularly in Victoria, the second-most populous state, which in early August logged as many as 700 daily infections.

This comes as a Reuters tally of global infections rose above 65.58 million people, while more than 1.5 million people have died, and as the United States continues to set single-day records for new infections.

(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by William Mallard)

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