SYDNEY - Australia recorded a fourth day of zero coronavirus cases on Thursday, prompting the chief of the country's most populous state to call for a special travel "bubble" with Pacific island nations.
New South Wales has reined in an outbreak in mid-December that prompted a strict lockdown in Sydney's Northern Beaches, while broader social distancing rules and mandatory mask wearing were imposed for the rest of the city.
Signaling those restrictions were set to be eased next week, Premier Gladys Berejiklien told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper the federal government should consider establishing a travel arrangement with the Pacific.
"There is no reason why we shouldn't aim to travel to New Zealand or some of the Pacific Islands well within the next 12 months," Berejiklian said.
The comments come after Australia's chief medical officer Paul Kelly cautioned about restarting international travel, given the country was in an "envious position" compared to most of the world.
Unlike other countries, Australia has closed its international borders, only allowing its stranded citizens back home.
However, the country is still hosting the Australian Open tennis grand slam, with hundreds of players and their entourages arriving each day.
Victoria, home to the Open, recorded its 15th straight day without any local coronavirus cases on Thursday, although as many as 72 players are in hard quarantine after some passengers on three charter flights carrying them to Melbourne tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Tennis coach Daniel Vallverdu told Reuters that players in hard quarantine and unable leave their hotels to practice, should later get preferential treatment from organizers such as prime practice times and matches scheduled in the cooler hours of the day.
Australia has reported more than 22,000 local COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths since the pandemic began.
(Reporting by Swati Pandey; editing by Richard Pullin)