Firefighters prepare to distribute food at a public housing tower in North Melbourne, Australia, on July 7. File Photo by James Ross/EPA-EFE
Aug. 10 (UPI) -- Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Monday the island nation recorded its highest single-day death toll of 19, but experienced a slight drop in cases.
The announcement came as infections worldwide inched toward 20 million.
However, Australia has fared comparatively better than most countries in the face of COVID-19, but it has been fighting spiking cases in the southeastern state of Victoria.
Of Australia's roughly 21,000 infections and more than 300 deaths, 14,957 infections were diagnosed in Victoria including 228 people who died to the virus, the state's health ministry said in an update.
On Monday, all 19 deaths in the past 24 occurred in Victoria. The previous daily high was 17, which was also set by Victoria a day prior.
Though deaths continue to rise, Morrison told reporters that he is "more hopeful" as daily cases appear to be on the decline from a record of 721 cases set late last month.
But when it comes to inter-country travel, he said he would welcome it by Christmas if it were possible but he doesn't think it will be.
"I think it's unlikely that we were able to move back to a restriction-free society," he said. "But I doubt that is going to happen. I doubt the medical position will enable that."
In neighboring New Zealand, however, where they celebrated 100 days without recording a locally transmitted case, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters Monday they entered phase one of establishing a so-called travel bubble with the Cook Islands.
The agreement outlines health and border requirements for each country to meet in order for quarantine-free travel between the two countries to begin, according to a statement from Ardern's office, that added the goal is to have the travel bubble in place by the end of the year.
"Once in force, the arrangement will facilitate the return to normal travel between our two countries, while acknowledging that the priority remains to protect our populations from COVID-19," Ardern said.
The move, said Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna, was vitally important to the economy of the small archipelago nation.
"We are moving forward together with New Zealand in a way that balances economic and social needs with the importance of maintaining strong public health efforts in both our countries and cooperation with travel sectors to implement safe travel protocols," Puna said.
Since the coronavirus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, nearly 20 million people have been infected with COVID-19, resulting in more than 731,500 deaths, according to data collected by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.