Bars reopened in Australia’s second biggest city a tick after midnight on Wednesday as a gruelling months-long lockdown ended, with elated residents in Melbourne celebrating a “double donut” — two days of no new coronavirus cases.
While much of Europe and North America look ahead to a tough winter of restrictions, Melbourne is enjoying its coming out party, with stay-at-home orders and forced closures of “non-essential” business coming to an end.
Advertisements - Click the Speaker Icon for Audio
Melbourne and the surrounding state of Victoria has been the epicentre of Australia’s second wave, with an outbreak that peaked at more than 700 daily cases in August.
But on Monday the state recorded a “donut” — no new cases or deaths — and on Tuesday clocked 48 hours with no new cases or deaths for the first time since early March.
Greg Sanderson’s inner-Melbourne bar Nick & Nora’s launched just three days before counter-pandemic measures forced it shut in March.
He said that after months of hardship, he is raring to go, with customers booked in for a champagne celebration the moment it is permitted.
“We have been waiting a long time,” he told AFP. “We’ve been closed for 61 percent of the year, so we’re pretty keen — we want to get into it straight away.”
“It’s definitely been a rollercoaster of emotions and struggles. Some days have been better than others and some weeks better than others — no one has escaped their own personal hardship.”
Across Victoria, there are now just 87 active coronavirus cases and a handful of people in hospital with the virus.
– ‘Great confidence’ –
State Premier Daniel Andrews said high testing rates in recent weeks had been “nothing short of stunning”.
“It gives us great confidence that these numbers are an accurate picture of how much virus is out there,” he told a press conference.
Visiting other people’s homes would now be allowed for the first time in months, he added, although it will come with rules on how many people can attend and how far they can travel.
Australia had largely curbed the spread of Covid-19 when the virus leaked into the community from Melbourne hotels used to quarantine travellers from overseas.
Aside from Melbourne’s population of five million, much of the rest of the country has long since returned to a semblance of normality.
Fabrizio Succi, who jointly owns Melbourne eatery Tiamo, told AFP his team was scrambling to prepare for reopening after being given the green light on Monday.
“We had to man the phones — everybody all of sudden had all this freedom and wanted to book, which was wonderful,” he said.
But the short notice from authorities means it will take until Thursday morning before the Italian restaurant will be ready to cook up its pasta and sauces, as workers race to dust off long-dormant tables and ready staff.
Business owners have also raised concerns that strict rules on the number of patrons mean many will initially be operating at a loss.
Beauty salons and retail stores are also permitted to welcome back customers, but gyms have been forced to wait until November 8.
Restrictions on travel between Melbourne and regional parts of the state will also be lifted from November 8, with a 25-kilometre (15-mile) travel radius for city residents set to be removed the same day.
But for now, the state remains cut off from the rest of Australia, which overall has recorded about 27,500 cases and 905 deaths in a population of 25 million.