MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Falling numbers of active coronavirus cases in Australia and New Zealand are paving the way for the easing of travel restrictions between the two countries, health officials said on Wednesday, even as Australia recorded its youngest coronavirus death.
In Australia, active COVID-19 cases have dropped below 500 people, while New Zealand's last coronavirus patient was discharged from hospital on Wednesday.
"The trans-Tasman bubble is certainly a possibility," Australia's Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said.
"If we look at the countries that are doing extremely well in controlling this COVID-19 problem, New Zealand is if anything a bit better than us. They have very few cases now."
Senior health officials of both countries held preliminary talks this week and are preparing advice for their respective governments in the weeks ahead on how safe travel could resume, he added.
Australia has recorded 7,144 cases of the disease and 103 fatalities following the death of a 30-year-old man with an underlying heart condition in Queensland, the country's youngest COVID-19 victim.
It was unclear how the man contracted the disease with authorities studying links to the Ruby Princess cruise ship, which was responsible for Australia's biggest outbreak of the virus, and nearby mines to which workers commute by air.
Kelly said 30 people remained in hospital, with six in intensive care and only three on ventilators.
The two island nations have been among the most successful countries in containing the coronavirus spread, which officials attribute to early travel restrictions, social distancing measures and widespread testing.
New Zealand has now gone five days without any new cases, Director-General Ashley Bloomfield said on Wednesday.
"I think this is the first time, at least probably in a couple of months, that we haven't had someone in hospital, so that's another good position to be in," he said in a briefing.
New Zealand has had 21 deaths and 1,154 confirmed cases of coronavirus.
Life for many Australians is beginning to return to normal this week with schools returning to face-to-face learning and the National Rugby League competition set to resume on Thursday.
(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Richard Pullin)