The Australian city of Sydney has emerged from the blockade after nearly four months, with locals celebrating a range of new freedoms.
People lined up for the bars and shops that opened at midnight on Monday specifically for the occasion.
Many others have enjoyed the reunions and planned visits to the homes of relatives and friends. Covid rules had banned family visits and travel beyond an area of 5 km (3.1 miles), dividing many families. But most of the restrictions have now been eased for fully vaccinated people.
People can now share food together in the reopened cafes and restaurants, and visit gyms, libraries and swimming pools. There were long queues for barbers and nail salons on Monday. The Lord Gladstone Hotel, an inner-town pub, was doing a noisy lunch trade, after months of limited trade and food-only options.
Australia’s largest city was allowed to emerge from the blockade after the state of New South Wales (NSW) achieved a 70% double-dose vaccination target for people over 16 years of age. More restrictions will be eased when 80% of people over the age of 16 are fully vaccinated.
Currently, over 90% have received the first dose. “These have been 100 difficult days,” said Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet on Monday. “But the efforts that people have made immediately across the state to get out and get vaccinated have made this great day possible.” Mr Perrottet warned that NSW was preparing for an increase in Covid cases, but said the healthcare system had been in place for weeks. “We will see an increase in hospitalizations… but we need to learn to live with the virus,” he said.
The state has not yet imposed a system to control vaccination status, leaving it in the hands of individual businesses. The Sydney blockade began in late June after an outbreak of the Delta variant began, leading to over 50,000 infections and 439 deaths so far. It spread to Melbourne and Canberra, pushing those capitals into a deadlock, as well as New Zealand. Canberra will come out of the blockade on Friday, while Melbourne is expected to reopen at the end of October.
Australia had previously adhered to a Covid elimination strategy, and this remains the target in some states. But the rapid spread of the Delta variant forced a greater focus on vaccination efforts so that Australia could move to “living with the virus.” Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory have been left virus-free after closing their borders to infected states.
Authorities have announced that Australians living abroad could travel back to Sydney next month after the country’s borders reopen.
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