Sydney set to ease lockdown in mid-Oct when vaccination rate hits 70%

Meanwhile, virus cases still near record levels; PM Morrison warns state leaders must 'hold nerve'

SYDNEY : Sydney's cafes, restaurants and pubs are set to reopen in the second half of next month after months of strict Covid-19 lockdown.

The authorities said Sydney bars and eateries, as well as gyms, across the city of five million people would be able to reopen at reduced capacity within days once New South Wales reached a 70 per cent double-vaccination target, now expected around the middle of next month.

Stay-at-home orders for the fully vaccinated will be lifted on the Monday after the target is achieved, officials said.

The plans come as daily infections linger near record levels amid a spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant, with the state registering 1,405 new local cases yesterday, down from 1,480 a day earlier. Five new deaths were recorded.

"Living with Covid means you have a cautious and staged reopening once you get to those high rates of vaccination in your adult population," state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

She expects cases to rise when restrictions ease and warned of localised lockdowns if "there is a concentration of disease in any suburb".

Lockdown rules in several regions outside greater Sydney have been lifted from Saturday after low case numbers there.

Under the plan, pubs and cafes in Sydney could reopen before schools, which will begin classes for the younger groups from Oct 25.

"The (school reopening) date is fixed because we need to provide certainty and planning for school communities... but for adults, we have the capacity to be more flexible," Ms Berejiklian said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday the reopening efforts of New South Wales align with the four-stage national plan unveiled in July that promised more freedoms once the country reaches 70 per cent to 80 per cent inoculation.

"The next stage will be hard... we'll see case numbers rise and that will be challenging," he said. "But if you want to live with the virus, you inevitably have to pass down that tunnel."

Mr Morrison urged state leaders to "hold their nerve" when they begin to live with the virus, although some virus-free states have hinted they may delay their reopening even after reaching higher vaccination coverage. - REUTERS