Jubilant Aussies in Sydney have flocked to bars and restaurants to celebrate their ‘freedom’ from Covid restrictions – in stark contrast to Melbourne, which has endured more time in lockdown than any other city in the world.
Beleaguered residents of Victoria’s capital Melbourne have suffered 253 days under draconian Covid restrictions to stay at home, leaving Buenos Aires holding the unenviable world record.
But while Melburnians are now pinning their hopes on a relaxation of the rules for the Australian summer, millions in New South Wales have been released from their lockdown and are already basking in their newfound freedom by heading out for a drink.
Pubs, cafes and shops reopened yesterday after vaccination rates of the state’s adult population passed 70%. Sydney’s Covid cases fell to its lowest in two months on Tuesday, while the total number of infections in the state fell to 360, marking a steady downward trend.
However, Melburnians can only look on jealously because they usually stay put in their homes.
The current lockdown is the sixth to be imposed in Melbourne and the city will have spent 45 percent of the pandemic under the measures by the time they are expected to relax later this month.
Adults are only allowed outside for essential groceries, authorized work, sports, family care and medical appointments, while a curfew is also in effect between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.
The streets of Melbourne, Victoria, remain empty and quiet as the state remains under strict lockdown measures
Sydneysiders are now making the most of their newfound freedoms by packing up bars and restaurants after being released from lockdown on Monday
People made the most of their newfound freedoms in Sydney when they went straight to the pub after restrictions were eased
Most schools have been closed for months and there are already learning gaps between children in Victoria and their peers across the country.
The hospitality industry has been crippled with many bars and restaurants closing their doors for good, while economists estimate that around £500m will be lost for each week of lockdown.
Victoria’s first lockdown began from March 30 to May 12, when restrictions were eased to the envy of many countries around the world.
But it only lasted until July 8, when the state was plunged back into a 111-day lockdown until October 27.
Since then, a short five-day firebreak was shut down in February, followed by three longer stints whose flow has been going on since August 5.
The measures were met with strong backlash and protests from angry residents of both Sydney and Melbourne who were unhappy at being locked up for so long, leading to ugly clashes with police and multiple arrests.
The state has recorded fewer than 1,000 deaths throughout the pandemic, but millions have been forced to give up their freedoms.
Current restrictions are likely to remain in place until at least October 26, when the state is expected to achieve a 70 percent vaccination coverage rate.
But experts fear that current infection rates will continue to rise, with Victoria experiencing 3,000 new cases a day by the end of the month.
Nearly 1,500 infections were recorded in the state on Tuesday, the lowest in six days but still much higher than the 360 recorded in New South Wales.
Victoria has had a total of 55,936 infections, while New South Wales has recorded 69,552 cases during the pandemic.
The federal government has urged states to start living with the virus when vaccination rates reach 70 percent, but some virus-free states said they could delay reopening for fear that a surge in cases will overwhelm their health systems.
Melbourne chaos: Anti-lockdown protesters faced police in September despite threat of $5,500 fines
Gyms, cafes, restaurants, swimming pools, shops, hairdressers and beauticians reopened Monday in New South Wales
People queue to enter a Louis Vuitton store after home orders lifted across NSW
Indoor entertainment facilities such as cinemas, theatres, concert halls, museums and galleries can now reopen in Sydney
New South Wales hit the target last week and at 12:01am on Monday, home orders and business closures ended after being implemented in June.
Going to the pub, eating out, going to the hairdresser, seeing a movie in the cinema and going to the gym are some of the activities that vaccinated residents can now do under the new orders.
They will also be able to see vaccinated family and friends with up to 10 visitors allowed for home gatherings and up to 30 outdoors under increased limits announced by new Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet.
Gyms, cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars, non-essential shops, libraries and churches are allowed to operate under the one person per 4 sqm rule, but nightclubs will remain closed.
Hairdressers and beauticians will also welcome vaccinated clients, but a maximum of five may be in the property at a time.
Gyms can have up to 20 customers per class, while stadiums, racecourses, theme parks and zoos can have up to 5,000 visitors.
The current lockdown is the sixth to be imposed in Melbourne and the city will have spent 45 percent of the pandemic under the measures
Health Ministry Deputy Secretary Kate Matson warned Victoria could reach 3,000 cases per day by the end of October
Indoor entertainment facilities such as cinemas, theatres, music halls, museums and galleries can reopen with one person per 4 m² or 75 percent fixed seating capacity.
Up to 100 vaccinated guests can attend a wedding or funeral, but must be seated while eating and drinking.
Vaccinated residents can venture more than 3 miles from their home and travel anywhere in Sydney.
Intrastate travel to regional areas will remain prohibited for a few weeks,
Masks in outdoor settings are no longer required, except for hospitality workers who actively serve customers.
Further restrictions will be eased later this month once NSW reaches 80 percent vaccination before life opens up to the unvaccinated from December 1.
The lockdowns met public opposition, with heavy-handed police enforcing the harsh rules
The state has recorded fewer than 1,000 deaths throughout the pandemic, but millions have been forced to give up their freedoms
NSW police arrested 32 people and handed out 265 tickets to protesters across the state one day in September (pictured, police interrogate a man in Sydney Park)
But in Melbourne, these freedoms are gone for weeks for all its residents as the government struggles to contain the contagious Delta strain.
Health Ministry deputy secretary Kate Matson warned Victoria could reach 3,000 cases per day by the end of October.
“Right now we are on track in terms of hospitalizations and new cases,” she said.
“But I’ll remind you that there’s a centerline and an upper and lower band, and we’re still within that band.”
On Saturday, the state registered 1,965 new cases, breaking the previous record three times in one week.
More than 86 percent of Victorians have now received at least one Covid shot and more than 58 percent have been fully vaccinated.