Responsible for nearly a third of the national economy, New South Wales will begin to unwind restrictions in the coming weeks even as case numbers are projected to peak.
On Thursday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian unveiled her government’s strategy to take the state out of a lockdown that began in June.
“Living with COVID means you have a cautious and staged reopening, once you get to the high rates of vaccination in your adult population,” Berejiklian said.
The Premier stressed that “only fully vaccinated people” and those with medical exemptions would get to enjoy the relaxation of rules under the government’s “Reopening Roadmap”.
Berejiklian said eased restrictions would be implemented the first Monday after the 70% vaccination target is hit. While she said her government didn’t want to specify a date, current projections suggest the milestone will be achieved around Monday October 18.
When it does, gatherings will again be permitted, with five fully-vaccinated visitors permitted to gather in a home at any one time, excluding children under 12 years of age. Gatherings of 20 people outdoors will also be allowed.
Pubs, restaurants and cafes will be allowed to reopen, but will be required to enforce a one person per four square metre rule indoors, and one per two square metres outside. Drinking while standing up outdoors will be permitted.
The four square metre rule will also apply to retail stores, gyms and indoor recreation centres, hairdressers and beauty salons. The latter two will be able to see a maximum of five clients at a time.
Theatres, museums, cinemas and music venues will face the same rule, but will also be capped at 75% seated capacity. Gym classes of up to 20 people will be able to go ahead, and pools and sports centres will reopen.
Major outdoor recreation centres, including stadiums and zoos will reopen with caps of 5,000 visitors in force, while 500 residents will be allowed to attended ticketed outdoor seated events.
Fifty people will be permitted to attend church and religious services, funerals, and weddings, with eating and drinking permitted at the latter while seated. Dancing at weddings will also be allowed.
Domestic travel including to regional New South Wales will be back on the table, with caravan parks also reopening, and carpooling again permitted.
Masks will remain mandatory for all indoor public spaces, including public transport, on planes, in airports and inside business, retail and hospitality venues.
Fully vaccinated residents will be able to gather outdoors in groups of five from Monday September 13, as previously announced.
Regional areas to reopen this week
In the meantime, some low-risk regional areas will reopen, with restrictions to ease from Saturday on the Mid-North Coast, the North Coast, the north-west of the state, Albury, the Riverina and Murrumbidgee, according to Deputy Premier John Barilaro.
However, the south of the state will remain closed.
“[The] south-east, the Illawarra, Shoalhaven, the Hunter, the Central Coast, out to the Central West and parts of the far west, [they] won’t open today,” Barilaro said.
Specifically, these local governments will remain under stay-at-home orders: Bathurst, Bega, Blayney, Bogan, Bourke, Brewarrina, Broken Hill, Cabonne, Central Coast, Central Darling, Cessnock, Dubbo, Dungog, Eurobodalla, Forbes, Gilgandra, Goulburn Mulwarre, Kiama, Lake Macquarie, Lithgow, Maitland, Mid-Coast, Mid-Western, Muswellbrook, Narrabri, Narromine, Newcastle, Orange, Parkes, Port Stephens, Queanbeyan-Palerang, Shellharbour, Shoalhaven, Singleton, Snowy Monaro, Upper Hunter, Walgett, Wingecarribee.
It comes as New South Wales case numbers continue to climb, breaking 8,000 this week. Modelling suggests the state’s daily case load will peak in the next fortnight, having easily surpassed Victorian numbers at the height of its outbreak last year.
“I want to stress that whilst today the New South Wales Government is outlining our road map for the way forward in New South Wales, we are definitely not out of the woods,” Berejiklian said. “We know that case numbers are likely to peak in the next week or so and we also know that our hospital system will be under the greatest stress in October.”
The state government also looks prepared to shut down any regional area again should there be an outbreak there.
“If there is high rates of disease in a particular location or a sudden surge or outbreak, the Doughty report says we have to restrict movements in the communities. Your mobility will be restricted within a particular distance. That could happen at any stage,” Berejiklian said.
“Towns or cities outside of Greater Sydney who haven’t had any outbreaks and experience an outbreak, may have to come under that condition.”
Currently more than three in every four adults have received their first vaccination dose, with 42.5% now fully vaccinated.
It puts New South Wales on track to hit its 80% double dose target by the start of November. The only territory to beat it to the milestone is the ACT, roughy one twentieth of its size.
Most other states are trailing behind, with the majority due to hit their own 80% target one month later in late November or early December.
Victorian Premier Dan Andrews has blamed the blowout on ongoing vaccine supply issues and accused Canberra of state favouritism, as his state’s cases quickly grow.
As all state premiers encourage their constituents to get vaccinated, the allure of new freedoms might just be the incentive they need.