The residents of Melbourne have spent more days in lockdown — 262, to be precise — than people anywhere else in the world. And on Friday, they emerged from it with cheers, and a dose of caution, as restrictions began to ease.
During those lockdown days, residents in Australia’s second largest city were allowed to leave their homes to buy food and to exercise, and to do authorized work. For the past two and a half months, they have also been subject to a 9 p.m. curfew.
As the clock struck midnight on Friday and these restrictions were lifted, residents greeted their new freedoms with cheers and screams.
It’s hoped that this will be Melbourne’s last lockdown — with 70 percent of residents age 16 and older now fully vaccinated, the government’s pandemic recovery plan envisages such restrictions becoming rare.
“I’m trying not to sound like some kind of soppy dad here, but I am proud, bloody proud of this state,” Daniel Andrews, the premier of Victoria, the state of which Melbourne is the capital, said on Twitter. “We’ve gone through such a hard time together, this pandemic has been exhausting in every sense of the word.”
But with case numbers still high — Victoria recorded 2,232 new infections on Thursday, its second highest daily total since the start of the pandemic — the city’s reopening is happening gradually.
Up to 10 vaccinated people can gather at home. Hairdressers, restaurants and bars can taje in more customers. Retail stores can reopen — but only for outdoor business, a condition some business owners have labeled “ludicrous.”
Indoor retail outlets, gyms and entertainment venues will be able to reopen once 80 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.
On Friday morning, street musicians returned to Melbourne’s central business district, which had fallen silent during the pandemic. Most shops were still closed but long lines snaked out of cafes and hair salons.
“It’s nice to see everyone out and about again,” said Lionel Lam, 33, one of a dozen people waiting outside a barbershop. He’d bought clippers to cut his own hair during lockdown, he said, “but I’m excited to get the back done.”
On Friday, the authorities in Victoria announced that, starting Nov. 1, vaccinated Australian citizens returning to the state from overseas would not need to quarantine. That brought the state in line with the state of New South Wales, which made a similar announcement last week.
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