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Australian shares rise on easing of curbs, low new infections

* Miners lift the index, jump up to 2.4%

* Macquarie Group warns of 35% drop in H1 earnings

* Big Four banks add between 1.1% and 1.7%

Sept 14 (Reuters) - Australian shares gained on Monday, after recording heavy losses last week, as a near three-month drop in daily cases of the novel coronavirus in Victoria state and a gradual easing of restrictions in its capital Melbourne cheered investors.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.5% to 5,887.5 by 0030 GMT. The benchmark had lost 1.1% over the last week, posting its fourth straight weekly decline.

Victoria, a COVID-19 hot spot, reported 35 new cases in the last 24 hours — the lowest daily rise since late-June, with Melbourne’s residents being allowed outside for exercise for two hours along with a shortening in the nightly curfew.

The second most populous state accounts for about a quarter of Australia’s annual economic output.

Tensions between Australia and its top trading partner China were also on investors’ radar as Canberra defended its rights to intelligence raids to prevent foreign interference, while Beijing condemned the raids.

Trade relations between the countries have been deteriorating, specifically after Canberra called for an investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus, angering Beijing.

Among gainers on the benchmark, miners were the biggest boost, jumping as much as 2.4%. BHP Group and Rio Tinto soared 2.7% and 3.9%, respectively.

Heavyweight financials sub-index added 0.6%, with all Big Four banks advancing between 1.1% and 1.7%.

However, gains were capped by investment bank Macquarie Group, which fell 5.6% after it warned of a 35% hit to its first-half earnings citing challenging market conditions.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.3% to 11,777.83. Local shares of Westpac Banking Corp and a2 Milk Co were among the top gainers, rising about 1.6%. (Reporting by Sameer Manekar in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)

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