On Monday, Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, said it was investigating two alleged positive COVID-19 cases in Melbourne, which, if verified, would be the state’s first community transmissions in nearly three months.
During a second wave of COVID-19 late last year, Victoria was the worst-affected Australian province, accounting for roughly 70% of total cases and 90% of deaths. The epidemic was only brought under control after one of the world’s longest and most stringent lockdowns.
Australia has avoided the high COVID-19 numbers seen in many developed countries by closing its international borders in the early stages of the pandemic, lockdowns and social restrictions. It has reported just over 30,000 cases and 910 deaths.
The report of the new likely infections come as the federal government considers a plan that would allow fully vaccinated residents to travel freely between the states if regional borders have to be closed during future COVID-19 outbreaks.
During past outbreaks states have imposed internal border closures and mandated 14-day quarantine for visitors.
“As the vaccine rollout progresses, we can give greater certainty to Australians in terms of what being vaccinated delivers for them by way of benefits across the country,” Finance Minister Simon Birmingham told ABC Radio on Monday.
Officials hope the vaccination and travel plan will prompt many Australians to get vaccinated. Australia’s vaccination drive has missed initial dosage targets and lags many nations.
Many Australians are hesitant or delaying getting vaccinated because of the country’s success in stamping out the coronavirus.
The vaccine rollout has accelerated in recent weeks, with roughly a third of the 3.6 million cumulative shots administered in the last three weeks, but still falling short of the 4 million pledged by March 31.
Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison proposed exempting fully vaccinated travelers from hard lockdowns and internal border controls, but most states have rejected the idea.
Morrison, on the other hand, will present his travel exemption proposal to the national cabinet – a coalition of federal and state government officials – next week, according to a story in the Australian newspaper on Monday, which did not cite any sources.