Australia relaxes lockdown further, intensifies economic recovery efforts

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Several Australian states eased social distancing restrictions further on Monday, allowing restaurants to host more people and public attractions to reopen, as the government moves to revive an ailing economy through accelerated infrastructure spending.

FILE PHOTO: A woman poses for a picture in front of the Sydney Opera House amidst the easing of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in Sydney, Australia, May 20, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Australia has recorded about 7,200 coronavirus cases and 103 deaths. And, with new infections now largely under control, the government has embarked on a three-step plan to remove the bulk of curbs by July.

In Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales (NSW), a maximum of 50 people are now allowed to sit down for a meal in a cafe or restaurants, while 20 can attend a funeral. The previous limits were set at 10.

Public attractions, such as art galleries, museums, and libraries and zoos were also allowed to reopen.

“It’s pretty crazy being back out into society and we’re super excited to get to the zoo,” Elizabeth Conlon, who took her two kids to Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, told Reuters.

“They were very excited this morning, getting up and knowing that it was a zoo day. We used to come to the zoo all the time as well, so it’s very exciting to get back here.”

While reopening public spaces for the first time in several months, authorities have said there will be limits on the number of people allowed to enter in a bid to ensure there is no second wave of infections.

Each site will need to ensure a social distancing norm of 1.5 meters between visitors is observed at all time.

In Victoria state, which has taken the most cautious approach to reopening, restaurants and cafes could reopen on Monday. However, patrons are restricted to a maximum of 20 people.

Australia hopes removing restrictions will boost economic growth, though Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday that additional, targeted stimulus would be needed.

Australia’s government and central bank has pledged about A$250 billion ($167 billion) in stimulus, though the bulk of this is expected to end by September.

The government is considering a plan to offer homeowners one-off grants for renovations, while federal infrastructure projects will be bought forward, Morrison said.

He added that the government plans to spend another A$5.25 billion to extend a train route to a airport being constructed in the west of Sydney.

“A big part of coming out of the COVID-19 crisis is our infrastructure spending,” Morrison told 2GB Radio.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Lincoln Feast & Simon Cameron-Moore