‘Long 100 days’: Sydney reopens as Australia looks to live with COVID-19

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Sydney’s cafes, gyms and restaurants welcomed back fully vaccinated customers on Monday after nearly four months of lockdown as Australia aims to begin living with the coronavirus through higher vaccinations and to gradually reopen the country.

Some pubs in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, opened their doors at 12:01 a.m. (1301 GMT) on Monday as friends and families huddled for a midnight beer, television footage and social media images showed.

“I think everybody across the state is pretty excited for what has been a long 100 days,” New South Wales state Premier Dominic Perrottet told Seven News on Monday.

More than 5 million residents in Sydney had been stuck in a hard lockdown since June to contain the highly infectious Delta variant, which has since spread to Melbourne and the capital, Canberra, forcing lockdowns there.

Perrottet urged Sydneysiders to temper their excitement about coming out of the lockdown as he warned that infections would rise after reopening.

Under the relaxed rules, 10 fully vaccinated people can gather in homes, while 100 can attend weddings and funerals. Retail stores can open with reduced capacity as the state pushes to hit an 80% vaccine rate around late October, when more curbs will be relaxed. But the unvaccinated must remain at home until Dec. 1.

New South Wales, home to Sydney, lifted lockdown rules after hitting its 70% target of full vaccination for its adult population, with virus-free states watching what living with COVID-19 is going to look like.

With the vaccine rollout gaining momentum, Australia is planning a staggered return to normal, letting fully vaccinated residents enter and leave the country freely from November, although New South Wales plans to bring forward those dates.

Australia shut its international borders in March 2020, helping keep its coronavirus numbers relatively low, with 127,500 cases and 1,440 deaths. New South Wales on Monday reported 496 new locally acquired cases, the majority in Sydney, up from 477 on Sunday.