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More COVID-19 curbs in Melbourne relaxed

SYDNEY — Melbourne’s pubs and cafes can have unlimited patrons from Thursday night, while stadiums can return to full capacity as authorities lifted nearly all remaining COVID-19 restrictions for vaccinated residents in Australia’s second-largest city.

Victoria, the state that is home to Melbourne, has been gradually easing curbs when dual-dose inoculations reached 70%, 80% and 90%, with the latest relaxations part of a shift in strategy towards living with the coronavirus. The full vaccination level for the eligible population is expected to reach 90% over the weekend.

“Your life will be back to normal, you will be able to enjoy all the things that you have yearned for and missed,” State Premier Daniel Andrews said during a media conference.

Under more relaxed rules, people can hit the dance floor and there will be no limits on home gatherings. But masks will remain mandatory in health facilities, public transport and retail stores.

Eased restrictions mean major summer sports events like the Boxing Day cricket test match and the Australian Open tennis will be able to welcome capacity crowds.

Australia had largely stamped out infections for most of this year until an outbreak of the Delta variant in late June spread rapidly across Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, and the national capital of Canberra, forcing months-long lockdowns. They have since come out of lockdowns racing through their inoculations.

Even with the Delta wave, Australia has recorded about 194,000 cases and 1,922 deaths, far lower than many comparable countries

New South Wales, which includes Sydney, logged 262 cases on Thursday and Victoria 1,007 new infections, while the Australian Capital Territory reported 25. Fifteen deaths were registered.

The Northern Territory is battling to contain a fresh outbreak as authorities look to accelerate vaccinations to prevent the spread of the virus in remote communities. Other states and territories are COVID-free. — Reuters

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