Sydney pubs set for mid-Oct reopening cheer under roadmap to COVID lockdown exit

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Sydney’s cafes, restaurants and pubs are set to reopen in the second half of October after months of strict COVID-19 lockdown, according to an exit roadmap published by New South Wales state officials on Thursday.

They said bars and eateries, as well as gyms, across the city of five million people will be able to reopen at reduced capacity within days of the state reaching a 70% double-vaccination target, now expected around mid-October. Stay-at-home orders for the fully vaccinated will be lifted on the Monday after the target is achieved, the officials said.

The plans come as daily infections linger near record levels in New South Wales (NSW) amid a spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant, with the state registering 1,405 new local cases on Thursday, down from 1,480 a day earlier. Five new deaths were recorded.

“Living with COVID means you have a cautious and staged reopening once you get to those high rates of vaccination in your adult population,” NSW state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said during a media briefing in Sydney, the state capital.

Australia’s COVID numbers are far lower than in many other countries, with just over 68,000 cases and 1,066 deaths. Increased vaccination levels have kept the death rate at 0.41% in the Delta outbreak, data shows, below previous outbreaks.

NSW’s Berejiklian had initially pursued a COVID-zero strategy to quell an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant that began in mid-June, but has since shifted to focusing on increasing inoculation rates.

About 43% of the population above 16 in the state, Australia’s most populous, have been fully vaccinated, with around 76% having received at least one dose, higher than the national average.

Under the plan, pubs and cafes in Sydney could reopen before the city’s schools, which will begin classes for younger aged-groups from Oct. 25.

“(School reopening) date is fixed because we need to provide certainty and planning for school communities … but for adults, we have the capacity to be more flexible,” Berejiklian said.

Regions in the state with near-zero cases, all of them outside Sydney, however, will exit lockdown on Saturday with schools there reopening from next week.