Melburnians are finally free from the world’s longest lockdown after enduring a collective 262 gruelling days living under stay-at-home orders as the Covid pandemic gripped Victoria.
People cheered on apartment balconies in celebration as the clock struck midnight, while car horns could be heard blaring in the background.
Premier Daniel Andrews finally agreed to lift the brutal restrictions earlier this week as the beleaguered state neared its vaccination target of 70 per cent – a target finally reached late on Thursday night.
Now that the double-jabbed can get some sense of normality to their lives after six punishing lockdowns spanning the past two years, some residents couldn’t wait another minute longer to reunite with their friends and family after being separated for so long.
It was like a wild New Year’s Eve celebration when bars and restaurants in the culinary capital of Australia threw open their doors at 11:59pm on Thursday.
Swarms of Melburnians rushed inside brimming with joy as they proudly flashed their vaccination status upon entry to eagerly awaiting hospitality staff, who had spent much of the day getting ready for the influx of revellers.
But while there’s a major sense of relief that the worst of the coronavirus crisis is now over, it’s still too early to ditch the face mask which remains mandatory indoors and outdoors unless eating or drinking.
A number of other hated restrictions will also still be in place along with strict capacity limits on venues and events.
People cheered on apartment balconies in celebration as the clock struck midnight, while car horns could be heard blaring in the background
Premier Daniel Andrews finally agreed to lift the brutal restrictions earlier this week as the beleaguered state neared its vaccination target of 70 per cent
MELBOURNE’S LITANY OF LOCKDOWNS
Lockdown 1: March 31, 2020 to May 12 May 2020 – 43 days
Lockdown 2: July 9, 2020 to October 27, 2020 – 111 days
Lockdown 3: February 13, 2021 to February 17 2021 – 5 days
Lockdown 4: May 28, 2021 to June 10, 2021 – 14 days
Lockdown 5: July 16, 2021 to July 27, 2021 – 12 days
Lockdown 6: August 5, 2021 to October 21 – 78 days as of October 14
The good news is that the city’s reviled and highly controversial 9pm curfew is now scrapped along with the dreaded 15km travel limit.
Residents can now freely move around the Metropolitan area however regional travel is still off the cards for now.
Hospitality venues like pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants are allowed to reopen for seated and outdoor service only, with a capacity limit of 20 fully-vaccinated patrons indoors and 50 outdoors.
The vaccination rate will have to surpass 80 per cent before nightclubs, dancing in venues and stand-up drinking is allowed.
General retail shops will also have to wait until the next vaccination milestone, predicted to be achieved in early November, before trading can return to normal.
From midnight non-essential stores can only operate outdoors or with click and collect services.
Entertainment venues, including cinemas and physical recreation, can go ahead with a maximum of 20 people indoors and 50 outdoor.
Personal services like hairdressers and beauty salons can get back to work with a limit of five patrons after the fashion-conscious city went without a trim for 78 straight-days.
But anyone entering any non-essential venue in the state must prove their vaccination status upon entry when they check in via QR code with the Service Victoria app.
Visitors can also show the green tick in their Medicare Express app. Those who can’t prove they’ve had the jab will be refused entry.
Pictured: A staff member at a Melbourne restaurant stacks wine glasses as she prepares for patrons to flood in
Residents can have up to 10 visitors at their homes while outdoor gathering limits will increase from 10 to 15.
Visitors to homes don’t have to be fully vaccinated but is highly recommended by the state government and health officials. The same rule applies for outdoor gatherings.
Religious services, weddings and funerals will be able to take place with 50 fully-vaccinated guests outdoors and 20 indoors.
While school children from Year 3 to Year 11 will start returning to the classroom part-time.
Early childcare will also reopen for children of fully vaccinated parents.
Pictured: A staff member cleans down a table at 48h Pizza and Gnocchi Bar in Melbourne preparing for the influx of customers
The long awaited reopening was originally supposed to take place on October 26, but was fast-tracked by premier Andrews who praised Victorians on their ‘mighty’ effort rolling their sleeves.
‘These are things we can bring forward because the Victorian community has done so well in getting vaccinated so fast and in such great numbers,’ Mr Andrews said on Sunday when he announced the lockdown would finally end.
‘I could not be more proud of our community for coming forward and making these decisions to protect themselves, to protect the people they love, and to protect all of us against this global pandemic.’
‘To allow us to change the rules to open up, to normalise this, to get our friends back, to be focused on living our lives as close to normal as possible.’
Mr Andrews later tweeted: ‘Bring forward the haircut and tell Mum you’ll be round for dinner.’
Melburnians have spent an agonising 262 days in lockdown since the pandemic began in early 2020.
The city recently surpassed Argentinian capital Buenos Aires as the world’s most locked-down location.
Hospitality venues can only serve 20 people indoors and 50 people outdoors under the eased Covid rules
During the gruelling period, the city has been marred by violent anti-vaccination and anti-lockdown protests which have seen hundreds arrested for clashing with police.
Victoria Police has also copped criticism for its heavy-handed approach to enforcing the harsh lockdown restrictions.
But the vast majority of weary residents complied with the restrictions and raced to vaccinated.
As well as eclipsing the 70 per cent target on Thursday, another significant mark was also reached with over 90 of the state having received their first dose.
Restaurants in Melbourne’s Chapel Street open to customers for the first time in months and are expected a midnight rush
‘The longest road has been journeyed in Victoria and that long road really starts to open up tonight,’ Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday.
‘This is not a big opening in that first step. In the Australian way, we move cautiously but deliberately, so we can safely open up.
‘That is the key. We want to stay open once we get open.’
But despite the success of the vaccination campaign, Covid cases in Victoria are still stubbornly high.
Stavros Manavakis (pictured) from 24 hour restaurant Chapelli’s on Chapel Street in Melbourne is back open for business
There were 2232 new locally-acquired infections on Thursday as well as 12 more deaths.
The number of fatalities in Victoria since the pandemic has now risen to 1,005, with majority coming during the state’s disastrous second wave from July to October in 2020.
The total number of cases in Victoria since the pandemic reached Australians shores now sits at 73,151, with 22,889 infections still active.
There are 779 Covid patients currently in hospital in the state and 141 of those cases are in intensive care, with 96 cases on a ventilator.
Victoria’s path to freedom: All the changes for the fully-vaccinated from 11.59pm on October 21
‘Because of everything Victorians have done, tomorrow we can start getting back to the things we love. Thank you Victoria – I’m so proud,’ Daniel Andrews (pictured) tweeted on Thursday
- No restrictions on leaving home and 9pm-5am curfew scrapped with Melburnians allowed to travel freely within the metropolitan region
- Travel between regional Victoria and Melbourne is still off the cards – unless for a permitted reason
Gatherings in the home and public spaces
- Up to ten visitors (including dependents) will be allowed in a home per day
- Up to 15 people can gather outdoors
Venues including hospitality, retail stores and personal services
- Hospitality venues including pubs and clubs will reopen for seated and outdoor service only, with a capacity limit of 20 fully-vaccinated patrons indoors and 50 outdoors
- General retail will reopen for outdoor service only with click and collect services to remain available
- Entertainment venues, including cinemas and physical recreation, will be reopened for 20 fully-vaccinated people indoors and 50 outdoors
- Hairdressers and beauty salons can open with a limit of five patrons
Weddings, funerals, an places of worship
- Religious gatherings, weddings, and funerals will be allowed to take place with 50 fully-vaccinated people outdoors and 20 indoors
Schools and childcare
- Students in Year 3 to Year 11 will start the staggered return to school
- Early childcare will reopen for children of fully vaccinated parents
- Masks will remain mandatory both indoors and outdoors