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Australia Gradually Emerges From COVID-19 Lockdowns

FILE - Pedestrians cross a deserted street in Melbourne's central business district on May 11, 2020, as Australia starts to ease its COVID-19 restrictions.

Gradually, personal freedoms are being returned to 25 million Australians. Many lockdown restrictions imposed in March are slowly being wound back. Cafes and restaurants are reopening and can accommodate a maximum of 10 customers at any one time. Victoria, which has imposed some of the toughest disease controls in Australia, announced Sunday a significant easing of some of its measures.

On June 1, restaurants and cafes will reopen with up to 20 patrons indoors.

Some churches are asking parishioners to book a place as services resume in Australia. Numbers are, for now, limited to less than a soccer team. Catholic authorities in Sydney say “this first step will offer comfort” after weeks of coronavirus lockdowns. However, many synagogues, Anglican churches and mosques in the state of New South Wales are staying closed, partly because of concerns for older members of their congregations. The livestreaming of religious services will continue.

Health authorities in Australia say they have managed to contain COVID-19 but remain wary of undetected cases or a second wave of infections.

Queensland’s state government says its southern border with New South Wales will remain closed to stop the spread of infection.

Queensland currently has just 12 active coronavirus cases.

As restrictions are slowly wound back, though, state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is urging residents to be cautious.

“The majority of people are doing the right thing and I cannot thank Queenslanders enough. I mean, we have gone through enough natural disasters in our lifetime to know that people do listen to authorities," she said. "Just because, you know, we have very few active cases, we still have a couple of thousand of people in quarantine, and until we get through all of those people in quarantine, you know, we are not out of the woods. So everyone has got to just be aware. At some stage, you know, people are starting to feel a little bit complacent. Please do not feel complacent. Please practice your social distancing.”

Geography has played a key role in Australia’s ability to contain COVID-19. Foreign nationals are not allowed into Australia, and returning citizens face a mandatory 14-day quarantine period in a hotel. Strict social distancing measures have also been crucial, as has widespread testing. Health officials say Australia has conducted more than 1 million coronavirus tests.

A major challenge for Australia is when and how to safely reopen its international borders.

Aviation experts have warned that overseas travel might not return to normal here until 2023.