SYDNEY, October 18 (Reuters) – Thousands of children returned to school in Sydney on Monday after months of learning from home as Australia’s largest city, supported by rising vaccination rates, relaxed more restrictions related to COVID-19.
Masks will no longer be mandatory in offices and more people will be allowed to congregate in homes and outdoors after the state of New South Wales, home to Sydney, reaches an inoculation rate double dose of 80% for people over 16 over the weekend.
The latest in a series of planned eases marks a shift in Australia’s largest cities to living with the virus, officials have warned, which will lead to more COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks .
“It’s not over yet, there is a long journey to go,” NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Monday, urging people to strictly follow the remaining health rules.
Retail stores, pubs, and gyms can allow more vaccinated customers, and nightclubs can reopen for seated drinking, while weddings can have an unlimited number of guests. However, all must respect social distancing measures.
The return to class was staggered, with the youngest and oldest students – those in kindergarten, 1 and 12 – returning on Monday. Everyone else is coming back next week.
New South Wales reported 265 new cases on Monday, the smallest one-day increase in 10 weeks and well below a high of 1,599 in early September.
The neighboring city of Victoria reported 1,903 new cases, up from 1,838 a day earlier. The state capital, Melbourne, is on track to start breaking out of its lockdown on Friday as full immunization levels approach 70%. The city has endured around nine months under strict stay-at-home orders since March 2020 – the longest in the world, according to Australian media. Read more
Some virus-free states, however, have signaled that they will keep their internal borders closed, fearing the reopening will overwhelm their health systems.
In contrast, the federal government has announced that it will roll out its vaccination passport for international travel from Tuesday, a key step in its plan to allow Australian citizens to travel abroad from next month.
Authorities said last week that vaccinated international travelers, initially only citizens and permanent residents, will be allowed to enter Sydney from November 1 without the need for quarantine. Read more .
With some 145,000 cases and 1,543 deaths, Australia’s exposure to the coronavirus pandemic has been relatively low.
Reporting by Renju Jose and Shashwat Awasthi; Editing by Peter Cooney and Jane Wardell
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