By Colin Packham
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's Victoria state, the epicentre of the country's COVID-19 outbreak, said on Thursday the number of new daily infections was close to a three-month low, buoying hopes that restrictions will be eased sooner than expected.
The Victorian government said 12 people had been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, near a three-month low of 11 cases reported earlier this week.
Australia's second-most-populous state is on an extended hard lockdown until Sept. 27, although some restrictions may be eased earlier if new infections continue to trend lower.
The two-week average of new infections in state capital Melbourne dropped below 27 on Thursday. If average cases remain below 50 by Sunday, some restrictions may be relaxed, the government has said.
Victoria's outbreak has had a devastating impact on the national economy due to lockdown measures including the closure of non-essential businesses and a nightly curfew.
The state accounts for 90% of Australia's total coronavirus deaths of 859. The country has reported nearly 27,000 cases, well below the numbers seen in many other developed nations.
Australia's most populous state, New South Wales (NSW), said it planned to hold the traditional New Years Eve firework extravaganza over Sydney Harbour.
NSW had warned the event could be cancelled due to concerns that social distancing restrictions could not be enforced, though waning case numbers have seen the state relax curbs on public gatherings.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Chris Reese and Stephen Coates)