Australia’s largest city will emerge from a 106-day lockdown on Monday, as Sydney officials confirmed the coronavirus vaccination target had been met.
Stay-at-home orders for the Harbor City’s more than five million people will now be lifted, while 70 percent of residents over the age of 16 have been double jab.
“The light at the end of the tunnel is now very, very close,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday, applauding the reopening announcement.
From Monday, pubs, restaurants and shops will open their shutters and welcome fully vaccinated people.
The five-km travel ban will also be lifted, although state and international borders will remain closed.
The reopening – described as “Independence Day” – is both “exciting” and “nerve-racking”, according to Alice Murphy, general manager of The Carrington, a Sydney pub now bringing staff and deliveries back to the site. Struggling to bring
“Obviously going from doing nothing for months, and then having a few weeks to get to the venue was likely a little daunting,” she said.
Murphy tried to fill the nearly four-month lockdown with activities like painting and gardening. But like millions of Australians, she too “just sat on the couch and watched a lot of TV”.
Australia has been worst hit by the pandemic – 1,379 deaths have been recorded in a population of about 26 million.
But for the past 18 months, Australian cities with fewer vaccinations have faced severe lockdowns to limit the spread of the virus.
Jobs have been lost, children have missed school for a large part of the academic year, and the restrictions have mostly sparked small but noisy protests and a flood of misinformation online.
According to a recent report by the country’s mental health think tank, there is increasing evidence that locked-down Australians are drinking more and that existing mental conditions have worsened.
In recent months, repeated sanctions and attempts by Australia to reach “Covid Zero” – now abandoned – have attracted international attention.
The conservative-run country has become an unexpected lightning rod for the American right against vaccine mandates and lockdowns everywhere.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – whose state has recorded more than 55,000 deaths in a slightly smaller population than Australia – also suggested breaking diplomatic ties.
“It’s not a free country at all,” he said. “Is Australia still independent of communist China? I don’t know.”
Thousands of Australian residents have also violated the restrictions, and some have voted with their feet.
The country’s population has shrunk for the first time since World War I, as migrants returned home in large numbers.
This has hit the hospitality and retail sectors which report staff shortages and logistics constraints in warehouses that can make reopening difficult.
Some medical experts are also concerned that the state of New South Wales, whose capital is Sydney, may reopen too soon.
The government’s own health advice from the Doherty Institute recommended a widespread reopening when vaccination rates reached 80 percent instead of the current 70 percent.
The Australian Medical Association warned on Thursday that infections would rise again and fewer hospitals would be at increased risk.
“New South Wales should not be reckless at this critical time,” said group chairman Omar Khurshid.
“It would cost more lives, cause more suffering, and put the economies of New South Wales and the nation at risk.”
But recently installed head of state Dominic Perrot was adamant about reopening.
On Thursday, he pushed the date for the resumption of most schools and said masks would not be required in offices.
Both measures are designed to get people back to work.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)