‘Blood, sweat, no beers’: Sydney set to ease COVID-19 curbs

MELBOURNE, (Reuters) – Sydney was set to reopen after months in lockdown, officials said on Sunday, with businesses readying themselves to welcome fully vaccinated residents from Monday.

New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, reported 477 new coronavirus cases and six deaths on Sunday, in an outbreak that has kept 5 million people in state capital Sydney in a lockdown for 100 days.

But as the state has met the threshold of 70% of its people fully vaccinated, New South Wales was ready to ease some restrictions and reopen many businesses, said state Premier Dominic Perrottet.

“It’s a big day for our state, and to everyone across the New South Wales: you’ve earned it,” Perrottet said. “It’s been a hundred days of blood, sweat, no beers, but we’ve got it back in action tomorrow.”

When asked what would be the first thing he does on Monday, Perrottet said, “I am going to get a haircut.”

Local media reported that hair and beauty salons have been fully booked for weeks to come.

“We have stretched their days and have opened up extra times in their diaries so that we can book our clients in as soon as we possibly can,” Joseph Hkeik, who runs several All Saints skin clinics in Sydney, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Many social distancing restrictions, however, and limits on public gathering will remain for weeks, Perrottet said.

The New South Wales government is also working out details to resume international travel as of the beginning of November, two weeks ahead of the mid-November date envisaged by the federal government.

According to a national plan, once 80% of eligible Australians are fully vaccinated, the borders, which have been closed since March 2020, will gradually reopen. Nearly 62% of all Australians 16 and older have received two vaccine doses.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was backing the New South Wales’ plans to “accelerate” the reopening of the borders.

“Australia, it’s been a battle of our generation. It’s been long, it’s been tough, there have been so many sacrifices, but we are well and truly getting there,” Morrison said in a video he posted on his Facebook page.

Victoria, with its capital Melbourne in lockdown since early August, reported 1,890 new cases and five deaths on Sunday. The state is expected to reopen late in October, once 70% of its residents are fully inoculated.

The Melbourne Cup, Australia’s most famous horse race, will go ahead on Nov. 2 with crowds of up to 10,000 people, the state government said.

“We’re going to normalise this virus,” said Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews. “We’re going to open up and we’re going to be back doing what we do best.”

Australia’s COVID-19 cases, however, remain far lower than many comparable countries, with just over 127,500 infections and 1,432 deaths in a country of just under 26 million.

Neighbouring New Zealand, which was largely virus-free until a Delta outbreak in mid-August, reported 60 new local cases on Sunday, up from 34 the day before.