Melbourne reopens as world’s most locked-down city eases limits

People in Melbourne flocked to the city’s pubs, restaurants and hair salons in the early hours of Friday after the world’s most locked-down city emerged from its latest round of restrictions, designed to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Australia’s second-largest city has so far endured 262 days, or nearly nine months, of restrictions during six separate lockdowns since March 2020, representing the longest cumulative lockdown for any city in the world.

Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, last year went through 234 straight days of lockdown.

In Melbourne, people were seen cheering and clapping from their balconies while drivers honked their car horns continuously at 11:59 pm on Thursday when the lockdown restrictions – in place since early August – came to an end.

Victoria State Premier Daniel Andrews on Friday promised there would be “no more lockdowns” as the state reached its vaccination targets.

“We’re not having statewide lockdowns, we’re not having citywide lockdowns, because people have gone and done what we’ve asked them to do, and now we’re delivering what we said we’d do,” he was quoted as saying on Friday.

Melbourne is the state capital of Victoria.

Many venues in Melbourne, including food outlets and even hairdressers, opened as the clock hit midnight.

Josh Mihan, owner of The Bearded Man barbershop in Melbourne, told the Reuters news agency he was nearly booked out for the next month and was encouraging customers to make appointments for Christmas.

“We all love cutting hair and being on the floor is such a lovely feeling, being around people,” he said.

“I have urged our customer base, make sure you have booked in your Christmas cut.”

Similar jubilant scenes were seen in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, when authorities started easing restrictions there almost two weeks ago.

70 percent fully vaccinated

Slightly more than 70 percent of adults in Australia are now fully vaccinated, and many residents are planning to fly overseas again when international border restrictions are eased next month.

From November 1, fully vaccinated international travellers arriving in Sydney and Melbourne will no longer need to quarantine. Other cities have flagged similar plans as vaccination rates rise.

Qantas Airways said on Friday that it would speed up plans to restart flights to many destinations and deploy larger planes to cater to the “massive demand”.

Qantas said it would launch a new route from Sydney to Delhi in early December, and bring forward plans for flights to Singapore, Fiji, Johannesburg, Bangkok and Phuket.

“This is a wonderful day – Australia is ready for take-off,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said shortly after the Qantas announcement.

A quarantine-free travel bubble between Australia and Singapore could operate from next month, Morrison said, if an agreement is reached as expected. Thailand announced on Thursday it would be reopening to tourists from several countries, including Australia.

New Zealand also eyes reopening

Despite Delta outbreaks across the southeast from late June, COVID-19 numbers in Australia are still far lower than those of many other developed nations, with some 152,000 cases and 1,590 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

And with a once-stuttering vaccine rollout gaining momentum, authorities no longer plan to rely on extended lockdowns to suppress the virus.

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