By Colin Packham
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will slightly lift the cap on the number of citizens and permanent residents allowed to return each week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday, as local COVID-19 cases slow to single digits.
Australia has since July capped the number of locals allowed to return home each week in an attempt to reduce the threat of spreading COVID-19.
Australia’s second COVID-19 outbreak started after people returning from overseas in Victoria state spread the virus to hotel workers while undergoing a mandatory 14-day quarantine, who in turn passed the virus in the community.
Morrison said the current cap will rise to 5,865 people in November, an increase of 290, after Western Australia and Queensland states said they would accommodate more locals.
The increase comes amid heightened pressure on Morrison's government to help some 26,000 Australians that registered their intention to come home.
"The most effective way to get Australians home is to increase these caps," Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
Many, however, have struggled to secure a plane ticket and raise the several thousand dollars needed to pay for hotel quarantine when they arrive back in Australia.
Looking to offer more support, Morrison's government earlier this month struck a deal with the Northern Territory government to allow up to 500 people each fortnight to return. These are outside the weekly cap, with the first plane landing on Friday.
The increase in the number of Australians allowed to return home comes as the country's second most populous state - the epicentre of the country's COVID-19 outbreak - on Friday reported that active coronavirus cases have fallen to a four-month low.
Victoria state, which recorded just one new infection in the past 24 hours, said there are now 100 active cases - the lowest since June 19.
"This is a good number. This is a very clear sign that the strategy is working," Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.
The active infections are a relief to state authorities amid heightened fears of a fresh cluster after a case in a school in Melbourne's northern suburbs prompted authorities to order 800 people to self-isolate.
Australia has recorded just over 27,400 COVID-19 infections, far fewer than many other developed countries. Victoria accounts for more than 90% of the 905 deaths nationally.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)