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Sydney lockdown: Delta Covid-19 restrictions lifted after four months

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Dinners at a cafe in Sydney, Australia today

Brendon Thorne / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sydney celebrates its own version of ‘Freedom Day’. After living in lockdown for 107 days to curb an outbreak of the delta coronavirus variant, residents can socialize, dine out and shop again, now that more than 70% of people aged 16 and over have been vaccinated.

“I think now is the right time to start opening up,†says Angela Webster of the University of Sydney in Australia. “We are already starting to see the effects of vaccination, with the number of cases dropping quite sharply. “

Sydney and other parts of New South Wales have battled the delta variant since it arrived in mid-June, ending a six-month spell with almost no cases of covid-19 and zero deaths.

Sydney was closed on June 26 to limit the spread of the delta variant, meaning people could only leave their homes for essential reasons like buying food. The rules were gradually tightened, limiting the movement of people to 5 kilometers and introducing curfews in some areas, but the contagiousness of the delta caused new daily cases to continue to soar, peaking at 1,599 on September 11. .

This rapid spread was in part enabled by the initially slow roll-out of vaccination in Australia. On the first day of the Sydney lockdown, less than 9% of adults in New South Wales had received both jabs.

To encourage vaccination, the NSW government has pledged to release Sydney from lockdown when 70% of people aged 16 and over have been fully vaccinated.

A concerted vaccination campaign has now seen 90 percent of this group receive one dose and 74 percent receive two doses. About 68 percent of children aged 12 to 15 have also received a jab since becoming eligible.

As vaccination rates have increased, infections in New South Wales have fallen to less than 500 per day.

Honoring its pledge, the NSW government has announced it will start easing restrictions from October 11. Fully vaccinated people in Sydney and their children can now host 10 visitors in their homes, gather in outdoor groups of 30, and visit hospitality venues and shops all over Sydney. These sites must operate with limited capacity and the wearing of a mask is mandatory if they are indoors. Schools will begin to reopen on October 18.

Once the state hits 80% immunization among people aged 16 and over in about a week, fully immunized people will be allowed to hold larger social gatherings and travel outside of Sydney. Restrictions on unvaccinated adults will be lifted on December 1, when the state is expected to have reached 90% immunization.

Infections are expected to increase, but high immunization coverage means most people won’t get seriously ill, says Catherine Bennett of Deakin University in Melbourne. “Hospitalizations weren’t as high in NSW as the models predicted and have dropped faster, so that’s a good sign,†she says. Australia arrives in the summer, which can also help suppress the number of cases thanks to the time spent outdoors, says Webster.

Alexandra Martiniuk of the University of Sydney is in favor of reopening, but believes restrictions should be eased more slowly to allow more people to get the full vaccine, especially if the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine is soon approved for older children from 5 to 11 years old.

Melbourne’s sixth lockdown

In Victoria, Melbourne – Australia’s most populous city after Sydney – has been closed since August 5 due to a delta epidemic. The city has experienced six closures during the pandemic – totaling more than 250 days – the most of any city in the world.

The number of cases continues to rise in Melbourne – reaching a record high of 1965 on October 9 – but James Trauer of Monash University in Melbourne is hopeful that they will start to decline soon. “We are approaching the level of vaccination sufficient for Sydney to make a difference,†he says.

Other Australian states and territories currently have no or very few cases of covid-19 and will keep their borders closed to New South Wales and Victoria until they meet their own vaccination targets.

The country’s international border has been closed since March 2020 to prevent travelers from bringing the virus into the country, with a few exceptions, including for Australian citizens and permanent residents returning from elsewhere. But the federal government recently announced that people will be able to go abroad again once each state and territory achieves 80% immunization for people aged 16 and over.

Being cut off from the rest of the world hasn’t been practical, but Webster believes it has helped keep Australia’s covid-19 death toll relatively low, at just over 1,400. “So far we’ve had incredibly well done and we were very lucky, â€she says.

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