Sydney readies to exit lockdown amid concerns over faster reopening plans

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – An Australian doctors group warned that a too-rapid easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Sydney could put pressure on health systems and risk lives, as the country’s biggest city prepares for an end to more than 100 days in lockdown.

Many restrictions are due to be lifted on Monday after New South Wales state hit a targetted 70% rate for full vaccinations, and authorities on Thursday bumped up permitted limits for home gatherings, weddings and funerals in the capital Sydney.

However, the Australian Medical Association (AMA), which represents the country’s doctors, said opening “too fast or too early” will result in avoidable deaths and the reintroduction of lockdowns.

“New South Wales must not be reckless at this critical time,” AMA President Omar Khorshid said in a statement late Thursday.

State Premier Dominic Perrottet has defended his move to bring forward the relaxation of several restrictions amid a steady fall in infections, saying the pandemic “is an economic crisis too”.

Neighbouring Victoria, meanwhile, logged a record 1,838 new cases on Friday, the highest number of any state in the country since the pandemic began, exceeding the previous high of 1,763 set three days earlier, and five new deaths.

Australia is fighting a third wave of infections fuelled by the Delta variant that has locked down Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, and the capital Canberra, forcing the closure of thousands of businesses and people to remain at home.

Still, the country’s COVID-19 numbers are far lower than many comparable countries, with some 122,000 cases and 1,394 deaths.

Officials have devised a staggered plan to ease curbs in the coming weeks when full adult inoculation rates hit 70%, 80% and 90%, a boost for Australia’s A$2 trillion ($1.5 trillion) economy as it tries to avoid a second recession in as many years.