Restaurants, cafes and bars in Australia’s most populous state were yesterday reopening after a two-month shutdown due to lockdown measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic, boosting the federal government’s bid to get people back to work and the economy back on track.
The easing of quarantine measures in New South Wales (NSW) came just a day after the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported unprecedented, record-high job losses and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned the nation that worse was still to come.
In Sydney, locals braved a cold, wet morning to catch up with friends and family over a coffee.
“It is such a treat to be able to sit down with other people around and chat to my friend,” said Jess Best, who met up with a friend in a cafe in the city’s eastern suburbs. “I can have a normal morning, not hiding away in my home.”
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned people to remain vigilant and maintain social distancing as restaurants, pubs and other businesses reopened for dine-in customers under the condition that they limit patrons to 10 at a time.
“Easing restrictions has failed in so many places around the world and I don’t want that to happen in NSW, I want people to have personal responsibility for the way we respond,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
NSW officials yesterday reported eight new cases of COVID-19, the highest daily tally in just more than a week. The national daily increase has slowed to an average of less than 20 per day.
Officials have credited lockdown measures adopted in March, including closing the country’s borders and ordering people to stay home unless on essential business, with constraining the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Australia has recorded about 7,000 COVID-19 cases, including 98 deaths, significantly less than in North America and Europe.
Morrison has outlined a three-stage plan to remove almost all lockdown measures by July to revive a national economy that had experienced more than two decades of uninterrupted growth before the pandemic. Most economists are now forecasting a recession.
Under Australia’s federal system, the implementation of the three-stage plan is the responsibility of individual states and territories. This has meant that different parts of the country are following different timetables.
In NSW, where schools are also slowly reopening, private households would be able to have five guests and public gatherings are limited to 10 people.
Public swimming pools also reopened, with a maximum of 10 people allowed in the water.
“It’s amazing to be able to swim again,” Jenny Finikiotis said as she emerged from the Bronte Swimming Club’s ocean pool. “The water is so warm, it’s crystal clear and the best it has been all summer, probably because there has been no one here swimming in it.”
In the Northern Territory, where case numbers have been low and there have been no deaths, pubs are opening with no restrictions on patron numbers and there are no limits on public gatherings or house visits.
Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, which yesterday reported 21 new cases, is retaining most of its lockdown measures.
Morrison described Thursday’s labor market data, which showed that almost 600,000 people lost their jobs last month, as “heartbreaking” and told Australians to brace for more bad news.
He was yesterday to meet with the emergency national Cabinet formed to deal with the crisis. The group, which includes state and territory leaders, was to hear briefings from the Reserve Bank of Australia governor and other financial leaders.
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