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Australia: Sydney reopens after months of COVID lockdown

Sydney's cafes, gyms and restaurants have opened the doors to fully vaccinated customers after nearly four months of lockdown, as new infections drop and vaccination coverage increases.

Customers Brian O'Mara, Darrell Forman and Doug Thomas drink beers together at the Fortune of War pub, on the first morning of pubs and many other businesses re-opening to vaccinated people in Sydney

Sydney celebrates after months of being in lockdown

Sydney's bars, restaurants and other business establishments reopened on Monday for the first time in over 100 days after the COVID vaccination rate in the city crossed 70%. 

Some pubs and restaurants in the city opened at 12:01 a.m. (1301 GMT) and residents gathererd to celebrate, television footage and social media images showed. 

Authorities had imposed several lockdowns and tightened restrictions after COVID cases linked to the delta variant began to climb around mid-June this year. Sydney, with five million residents, is Australia's largest city.

Australia celebrates

"Enjoy the moment, enjoy it with your family and friends," Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Sydney residents.

"Today is a day so many have been looking forward to — a day when things we take for granted, we will celebrate," he added.

Sydney is the capital of New South Wales state and the state Premier Dominic Perrottet said he saw the day "as a day of freedom."

"We are leading the nation out of this pandemic but this will be a challenge," Perrottet added.

Though jubilant about being able to reopen the city once again, Perrottet warned that infections could rise again after reopening and that people had to be careful.

"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."

Watch video 01:35

COVID-19: Australia locks down due to delta variant outbreak

Other states that aren't as badly hit with the virus are keeping close tabs on the city to see how the reopening plan pans out as the threat of COVID still looms large. 

The latest on COVID

New South Wales has vaccinated about 74% of its population over the age of 16. It aims to hit an 80% vaccination rate around late October, and plans to ease more rules when that happens.

Retail stores can open under the new rules, though they'll operate at reduced capacity. More people can gather in homes and attend weddings and funerals.

Watch video 01:25

Australia: Hundreds arrested at anti-lockdown protests

But the unvaccinated will have to remain at home until December 1. Sydney has seen a large number of anti-vaccine protests. At the end of July, authorities had to deploy soldiers to enforce a COVID lockdown since people were breaking lockdown rules.

On Monday, New South Wales reported 496 new locally acquired infections, down from their peak last month. Victoria state, home to Melbourne city, logged 1,612 new infections, the lowest in five days.

Australia shut its international borders in March 2020, helping keep its coronavirus numbers relatively low as compared to other countries. It has recorded 127,500 cases and 1,440 deaths so far.

rm/sri (Reuters, AP)