Australia in travel talks with Japan, Korea as coronavirus cases ease

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia is in talks with Japan, South Korea, Singapore and South Pacific nations on reopening travel as coronavirus infections ease, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday.

FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks at Admiralty House in Sydney, Australia, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

Australia shut its borders in March to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and is looking to revive tourism to help pull the country out of its first recession in nearly three decades.

While Australia has managed to contain the outbreak better than others, it is facing a second wave in the state of Victoria, where Melbourne remains under a tight lockdown. But infections there have been falling since early August.

Morrison said he had spoken to his counterparts in Japan, South Korea and some Pacific nations, while Foreign Minister Marise Payne had held talks in Singapore this week on resuming travel.

“There are a number of countries that have performed well on the health front, and Australia and those countries are one of a handful of countries that have had the same level of success,” Morrison said at a televised media conference.

“But we have to go cautiously on this - very, very cautiously. COVID-19 hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s still there. And it is no less aggressive today than it was six months ago.”

The country reported 19 new cases on Sunday, twelve of them in Victoria. It reported one fatality, taking the total COVID-19 death toll to 898.New Zealanders will be able to travel to some Australian states from Friday without quarantining, including to New South Wales, Canberra and the Northern Territory.

Moves to ease a hard lockdown in Victoria state have stalled. The state government had been set to allow all shops in Melbourne to reopen, outdoor dining to resume, and free movement from Oct. 19 if the two-week average of new cases fell below 5.

State premier Daniel Andrews said on Sunday it was nearly impossible to reach that target by next week, with the two-week average at 9.3, but added some restrictions would be lifted.

“They will not be as big steps as we hoped but they will be significant, and they will allow us to move more freely,” Andrews said.

Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa