SYDNEY: Virus lockdown rules were relaxed for fully vaccinated people in Sydney on Monday, with small groups allowed to meet for picnics for the first time in months.
Families and friends gathered in parks and at beaches, reuniting 11 weeks after an outbreak of the Delta variant brought Australia's biggest city to a virtual standstill.
The rules remain strict, with just five fully vaccinated people allowed to gather outdoors for up to an hour, while tougher rules are in place for virus hotspots.
Across Sydney, a five-kilometre travel limit remains in place. Though only a slight easing of restrictions, carer Lisa Doyle welcomed the change, saying it would make lockdown "a lot easier".
"I think with the restrictions easing today it gives me greater peace of mind that we can go out and we're allowed to get together," she said.
Stay-at-home orders are set to be lifted for the fully vaccinated across Sydney and surrounding New South Wales state when the double-dose vaccination rate hits 70 per cent -- likely in October based on current trends.
Damien Carr, who is semi-retired, said the rule change was "great", but like many was looking forward to the day when more rules are lifted.
"I can catch up and be with more mates but I'd love to see both my kids. I haven't been able to see my daughter in over two months and she only lives 10 kilometres from here.
"That's actually been the toughest thing for me in the lockdown, I think for a lot of people, just not being able to see your family. Whether they are 20 kilometres away or 2,000 kilometres, it's tough."
Sydney residents are cautiously hoping the rule changes signal the beginning of the end of 18 months of on-off restrictions.
"Most people I know, they want to go to restaurants, they want to celebrate, they want to have birthdays," Carr said.
"I think it will be a huge party but I don't think we're out of it."
Meanwhile, the government of the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) said the pace of Covid-19 vaccinations had slowed as first-dose coverage neared 80 per cent and urged the unvaccinated to get shots soon or risk missing out on freedoms when curbs ease.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has promised to relax some restrictions for the state's 8 million residents once two-dose vaccination rates hit 70 per cent, expected to be around the middle of next month. So far, about 46 per cent of the state's adult population has been fully vaccinated, above the national average of 42 per cent. - AFP