Enthusiastic Sydneysiders celebrated the end of their nearly four-month coronavirus lockdown on Monday, leaving behind a period of “blood, sweat and no beer” in Australia’s largest city.
More than five million Sydney residents have been subjected to a 106-day lock down, designed to limit the progress of the Delta’s high-transmissible variant.
As new infections decline – New South Wales reported 496 cases on Monday – and more than 70 per cent of those over the age of 16 have been fully vaccinated, the city is spewing cobweb dust.
From midnight, pubs, restaurants and cafes open their doors to anyone who can be vaccinated.
Including 32 year old Garth Diemer and his team of energetic construction workers who make the most of a rainy day.
“We knew the pubs were going to be open about 10 am ’cause it’s Freedom Day, so I thought I’d take the blokes down for a couple of schooners,” he told AFP.
“I’ll tell you what, mate, it is bloody beautiful just to have a beer right in the middle of the heart of Sydney, at the Circular Quay and have a beer with your mates. I’m over this lockdown.”
Peter Morgan, a 35-year-old cafe diner, is also enjoying his newly restored freedom.
“Even though it’s like freezing outside, it’s so good,” he said.
“The first thing I’m going to do is see my parents. Actually no, not see my parents. I’m going to go to Lakemba to get a Lebanese mixed plate and then go see my parents.”
Shaggy-haired customers stand in front of hairdressers all over town, to get eyebrow-raising home cuts and dye job repaired.
“I couldn’t wait to be in here to get the hair done,” said Brett Toelle, a salon customer in Surry Hills whose last trim was 15 weeks ago. “That’s the longest time I’ve ever been without a haircut.”
For many, the end of the lockdown was an opportunity to enter the stores.
At midnight, hundreds of people flocked to the discounted Kmart store in Sydney’s western suburb of Mount Druitt, with pictures on social media showing long lines inside.
For others, it’s an opportunity to get their business back on track.
“It’s a great vibe this morning,” said Hannah Simmons, owner of Gordon’s Cafe in the beachside suburb of Clovelly whose business survived the lockdown by offering takeaway.
“The outside seating will be a little bit dreary but that’s OK. We are really excited to be back there and open.”
Since June, shops, schools, salons and offices have been closed for non-essential workers and there have been unprecedented restrictions on personal freedoms.
There are prohibitions on everything from traveling more than three miles from home to visiting family, playing squash, browsing supermarkets and going to funerals.
“You’ve earned it” –
Throughout most of the pandemic, Australia has managed to suppress infections by closing, blocking borders and carrying out aggressive testing and prosecution.
But the delta option pays off for every “Covid zero” dream, at least in the biggest cities Melbourne and Sydney, which are now turning to “Living with Covid”.
“It’s a big day for our state,” said New South Wales’ recently appointed conservative premier Dominic Perrottet.
After “100 days of blood, sweat and no beers,” he said, “you’ve earned it.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison hailed the day as a day to celebrate what was once taken for granted: “With family and friends, haircuts, meals, pubs and beer with friends.”
There will continue to be restrictions on mass gatherings and international borders, and schools won’t be fully open for another few weeks.
On the other hand, daily life seems normal again, as crowds gather again at the bus stop and the traffic gets heavier.
Despite the festive atmosphere, there are persistent concerns that reopening will lead to a spike in infections.
The Australian Medical Association has warned that reopening must be gradual, “otherwise it can still be seen in New South Wales that hospitals will be overcrowded despite high vaccination rates”.