Australia readies to ease some COVID-19 restrictions

Colin Packham

By Colin Packham

SYDNEY, May 8 (Reuters) - Australia's national Cabinet was on Friday expected to ease some social distancing restrictions as the number of new coronavirus infections slows.

Australia in March imposed strict social distancing restrictions, which coupled with the closure of its borders is widely believed to have drastically slowed the number of new COVID-19 infections.

With fewer than 20 new infections each day, Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week said he would meet on Friday with state and territory leaders to decide which restrictions will be eased.

Australia's Minister for Health Greg Hunt on Thursday said he expected the Cabinet to detail a timetable for easing those restrictions.

"What I expect is a clear roadmap out, with clear stages," Hunt told reporters in Melbourne.

Although the measures have successfully prevented local hospitals being swamped by coronavirus patients, it has taken a devastating toll on the economy, which is on course for its first recession in 30 years.

Unemployment is expected to top 10% this year and the Reserve Bank of Australia expects GDP to slump 6% during 2020, a decline that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said is costing the country A$4 billion ($2.60 billion) each week.

Australia has had fewer than 7,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Fewer than 800 people are still sick with COVID-19, though 97 people have died from the virus.

($1 = 1.5404 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)