Sydney roars back to life as pubs and stores open after three months.
SYDNEY, Australia — With excitement and caution, Sydney stepped out of lockdown Monday after more than 100 days of Delta-diminished existence.
It was “Freedom Day,” with rules. Across the state of New South Wales, home to Sydney, as many as 10 vaccinated people could gather at home, with the number rising to 100 people for weddings, and 500 for outdoor events. Bars and restaurants also opened with masks required indoors when people are not eating and drinking.
But with more than 70 percent of the state’s adult population fully vaccinated, the first few sips of normalcy were more than enough to celebrate.
“People can call it whatever day they want to call it,” said Dominic Perrottet, the state premier, who accidentally sprayed himself with beer as he tapped a keg to commemorate the occasion. “I just think it’s a great day for the people of our state based on the efforts and sacrifices that everyone has made.”
For a country that was a capital of the “Covid zero” strategy to fully eliminate the virus, it’s been a wrenching metamorphosis. When the outbreak started in June, Australia lacked both urgency and supplies of the vaccine. New cases exploded to 1,500 a day. Now, after months of public compliance, case numbers have fallen to about 500 daily and many epidemiologists believe the country is on track to fully vaccinate 90 percent of its population if not more.
Given the promising numbers, Mr. Perrottet has been rapidly accelerating the move away from restrictions. He recently granted an exemption that will allow 10,000 vaccinated fans to attend Sydney’s The Everest horse race. He has also pushed to reopen international travel as early as next month.
The progress is still uneven. Some regional communities have much lower vaccination rates. Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, is still locked down, with case numbers hovering at around 1,500 per day. And in Western Australia, which has enjoyed life without Covid for most of the pandemic, only around half of adults are fully vaccinated, which means that Sydney residents may be able to reach New York before they can visit Perth because of state border restrictions.
But travel is only one of the joys that people are eager to experience. Salons have been popular — with some opening at 12:01 a.m., the moment they were allowed. Gyms also suddenly came back to life early Monday morning, and even the most mundane of activities seemed to be welcomed.
Alexis Phitidis, the owner of a mattress store in Eastern Sydney, sent text messages to suppliers and friends when there was just one minute to go until it reopened. Inside, a half-dozen customers lay on mattresses to test what they wanted to buy.
“It’s busy but calm,” Mr. Phitidis said. “People are just grateful for the opportunity — we’re all grateful for the opportunity to just engage.”
A customer suddenly rushed past. He offered three words that captured the mood: “It’s bloody awesome.”