Fully vaccinated people in Sydney have been enjoying cafes and bars as the city reopens for the first time after more than 100 days in lockdown.
Hairdressers and gyms have also been allowed to reopen in Australia’s largest city after it reached its vaccination target.
More than 90% of the New South Wales state population aged 16 and over have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine with 73.5% are now double jabbed.
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One woman, who was out with her family, told Sky News Australia: “It’s freedom day – it’s all about Australia and freedom and it’s super fantastic.
“We are so so happy, it’s like Mel Gibson in Braveheart – we are going, we’re off, it’s happening”.
She went on to thank “everybody”, saying “we love it”.
Some businesses in the city opened at midnight due to demand from people impatient to enjoy their freedom.
More pandemic restrictions are set to be removed once 80% of the population have been fully vaccinated which will allow New South Wales residents to travel overseas for the first time since March last year.
But the unvaccinated must remain at home until 1 December.
The state reported 496 new COVID cases and eight deaths in the latest 24-hour period.
However, as residents return to work and become more mobile in Sydney, the infection rate is expected to rise.
New South Wales premier Dominic Perrottet said the infection rate and the number of COVID-19 patients being admitted to hospitals were lower than modelling had predicted.
“So that’s positive and gives hope and confidence as we open up in a measured way we’re in a very good position to keep people safe,” Mr Perrottet said.
“There’s still restrictions in place. It’s not a free for all. It is opening up in a measured way and if everyone can look after each other and respect each other, we can get people back into work, we can get businesses open, while at the same time keeping people safe.”
While Sydney has seen the number of infections going down in recent weeks, they have yet to peak in Melbourne, the country’s second-largest city.
Victoria state, which includes Melbourne, has managed to fully vaccinate 58.6% of its population and give at least one dose to 85.5% – so remains a week or two behind New South Wales.
On Monday, the state reported 1,612 new COVID cases and eight deaths.
New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, which includes national capital Canberra and two villages, are the only parts of the country to reach the 70% vaccination target.
Canberra, where more than 95% of the target population has received at least one vaccine dose and 72.8% are double jabbed, will relax pandemic restrictions on Friday.
Sydney’s latest lockdown began on 26 June and the outbreak of the Delta variant spread from Sydney to Melbourne, which has been locked down since 5 August, and Canberra, which has been under lockdown since 12 August.
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