After an excruciating year and a half of lockdowns and social restrictions, the prospect of a glorious post-Covid summer in Australia is now tantalisingly close.
As the country approaches the ‘freedom’ thresholds of 70 and then 80 per cent of over 16s fully vaccinated, Australians are already planning a return to normalcy without testing, quarantine periods, self-isolation and constant venue check-ins.
‘We’re moving towards Christmas and it looks as if we’re all going to be able to effectively cut loose,’ NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said on Thursday.
The state will hold a cabinet meeting on Friday to detail the way forward once the state hits 80 per cent full vaccination, but state government ministers told Nine News that a lot of the measures we have become used to – including mass testing and contact tracing – could go out the window by Christmas.
Australians hope to be enjoying a post-Covid life of relative freedom by the end of this year
‘We are confident will get the balance right by giving people enough freedoms to enjoy the things that we’ve missed and making sure we re-open in a very responsible and cautious way,’ NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Friday
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, presiding over the state with the highest vaccination rates in the country at 84.1 per cent of the eligible population with one dose of vaccine and 56.6 per cent now fully vaccinated, is yet to formally detail what freedoms will be available as the targets are reached.
Uncertainty remains what will happen should positive cases be discovered at a re-opened business, venue or site as NSW approaches the first 70 per cent threshold in mid-October.
‘We are working through those challenging issues,’ Ms Berejiklian said at Friday’s NSW Covid update.
Professor Emma McBryde, an infectious diseases physician from James Cook University, said more could be done now to ease Covid restrictions now
‘We are really keen to give people a very good idea of what to expect at 70 per cent double dose and what they could do at 80 per cent, which will also bring with it additional things people can do.
‘It won’t be perfect but we are confident we will get the balance right by giving people enough freedoms to enjoy the things that we’ve missed and making sure we re-open in a very responsible and cautious way.’
Professor Emma McBryde, an infectious diseases physician from James Cook University, said more could be done now to ease Covid restrictions while warning that health systems around Australia might still be put under stress by a surge of infections in those who remain unvaccinated after re-opening.
‘What everyone wants from the government is a reassurance that [restrictions] are not going to be stop-start anymore,’ she said.
‘The level of detail the government needs to provide is under what circumstances would they lockdown.’
Professor McBryde said plans to re-open venues and end travel restrictions at 70 and 80 per cent full vaccination thresholds seemed reasonable goals but that some public health measures could be addressed now.
‘My view is there is a lot more we could be doing to relieve people from these burdens and restrictions and excessive government imposts,’ she said.
‘Simple things like allowing home quarantine for fully vaccinated people.
‘Really cruel things like restrictions on people visiting loved ones, going to funerals and crossing borders… why a fully vaccinated person needs to be in quarantine from one state to another, when their risk is really very low.
‘The NSW-Victoria border should be opened. Why would you have to quarantine moving from NSW to Victoria, or vice versa, when there’s endemic Covid in both states?’
‘Children are not getting adequate education and adequate socialisation. Being at lower risk, it’s really time to get back to school.’
‘What everyone wants from the government is a reassurance that [restrictions] are not going to be stop-start anymore,’ Professor Emma McBryde said
Mr Perrottet revealed that nightclubs were initially supposed to re-open at the 70 per cent vaccination stage but were pushed back. Pictured: The Ivy club in Sydney before lockdown
Professor McBryde tempered her remarks by saying she ‘understands’ why states such as Queensland and Western Australia would be cautious about re-opening to Covid-affected jurisdictions.
‘The truth remains even at 80 per cent [Covid] will certainly get in and become endemic in these other states.’
‘We shouldn’t be kidding ourselves that if Queensland re-opens, there won’t be an outbreak of Covid among the unvaccinated. Even at 80 per cent full vaccination, it’s not enough to cause sufficient herd protection to keep everything totally Covid-free.’
She said Australia should aim for vaccination rates similar to those for childhood vaccination, at 90-95 per cent, but that this was a separate story to how quickly freedoms should be restored.
In an interview with Daily Mail Australia last week, NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet predicted a glorious summer boom for his state’s economy after residents are finally released from a four-month lockdown in October.
Nightclubs, community sport and international travel would return for NSW residents once 80 per cent of over 16s are fully vaccinated as the state transitions towards living with Covid-19, Mr Perrottet revealed.
He said the country must open up to the world because ‘we can’t live in a hermit kingdom’ for much longer – and he expects quarantine for overseas arrivals including foreigners to be removed entirely next year.
Mr Perrottet warned that once the state starts to open up with 70 per cent fully jabbed, suburb lockdowns may be required to stem any large Covid outbreaks but state-wide shutdowns would be over for good.
New South Wales has become the first state in the nation to relax Covid rules with high case numbers due to its soaring vaccination rates. Half the state has been fully jabbed and just over 80 per cent have had a single dose.
The government’s roadmap to freedom allows a moderate easing of restrictions when the double dose rate hits 70 per cent, expected in mid October, including the return of pubs, gyms and hair salons with strict density requirements.
Crisis cabinet is currently working on what life looks like when 80 per cent are jabbed, which is expected four weeks later in mid November, but Mr Perrottet said the relaxation at that stage would be ‘much greater’ and see life return back to near normal.
Community sport is expected to restart when 80 per cent of over 16s are fully jabbed in NSW
Nightclubs and sport
Mr Perrottet revealed that nightclubs and community sport were initially supposed to re-open at the 70 per cent stage but were pushed back due to the growth of the state’s outbreak which has seen 43,779 locally acquired cases since June 16.
‘Nightclubs were something that were substantially discussed at 70 per cent [vaccination rate] and it was pushed to 80 per cent,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘The other one was community sport. There were areas of substantive debate for 70 so I think you can expect at 80 per cent that clubs will be open again and that’s obviously important because younger people are in many ways the ones that have been hit very hard.
‘Your early years at university and college are the best years of your life and we want to get the pubs and clubs open again and we want to bring fun back to our state.
‘And that’s going to happen,’ he said.
Mr Perrottet also flagged the return of packed footy stadiums which will be capped at 5,000 spectators between 70 and 80 per cent vaccination thresholds.
‘Last year we looked at the world as we opened up and we saw hospitals being overwhelmed, substantial restrictions in place and we thought how lucky we were to be living in Australia,’ he said.
‘Now as Australians, and particularly in NSW, we’ve got restrictions in place and you look overseas and we see the US open packed, the premier league with packed crowds and we go ”we want to have that” and that’s what we’re going to have here in NSW as we open up in a safe way.’
International and inter-state travel
On Friday NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the state would start a four-week trial of home quarantine for returning Australians with the aim of stamping out hotel quarantine by the time the borders open late this year.
Qantas is preparing to restart international flights on December 18 and Mr Perrottet said NSW residents will be able to fly to London and New York before Perth or Brisbane because Western Australia and Queensland are still pursuing a Covid elimination strategy and keeping their borders closed.
Asked if that was an absurd situation, he said: ‘That’s just the reality.
Australians will be allowed on overseas holidays even if some state borders are still closed when 80 per cent are vaccinated. Pictured: Sydney passengers before lockdown
‘We’re talking about returning international students, we’re talking about returning Australians. We’re opening up businesses and the next step is opening up borders,’ he said.
‘If we can lead the way on international travel that’s going to be a great thing for the state.
‘And hopefully that will then lead to other states following us. It might be ironic that you can get to Bali before you can get to Broome but that’s where we’re heading.’
We can’t live in a hermit kingdom, we have to rejoin the world
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet
The Treasurer said premiers in other states who are nervous about opening up will be eventually pushed into action by their voters who will want to travel once more.
‘What I want to see in the other states is that as we move through this period and as we rejoin the world, that other states and the Australian people will say well ”we want to have that too” and that means living alongside the virus,’ he said.
‘There is no evidence of Covid going away and we can’t hide from it indefinitely.
‘We can’t live in a hermit kingdom, we have to rejoin the world.
‘I think it’s pretty clear that NSW and Victoria will be the two states that move together on achieving that,’ he added.
Treasurer Dominic Perrottet with his budget papers
Mr Perrottet said international travel was crucial to Australia’s success, with tourism bringing in $42billion a year to the NSW economy.
‘Over time our role as a government is to lead our people into great opportunity and prosperity and it’s not just for us, it’s for our kids as well and that’s our focus and I think overtime that’s where Australians will want to be,’ he said.
Mr Perrottet said hotel quarantine will be replaced by home isolation this year and then removed altogether for the fully vaccinated next year.
‘My expectation is that we will get through this trial and if it’s successful we will shift from hotel quarantine to home quarantine and the next step after that is just logical,’ he said.
‘If somebody is fully vaccinated, coming from overseas, they shouldn’t be treated any differently from people who are vaccinated who are living here. As we rejoin the world, it will make no sense for people [to quarantine].
‘And Australians as well, if we’re going to be travelling overseas we don’t want to do seven days or 14 days quarantine either. That’s just not going to work.
‘Ultimately we’re going to end up in a situation where right across the world the majority of people have been vaccinated and we move on and enjoy the opportunities we had before this virus came to be.’
Will we need lockdowns again?
Australia’s national re-opening plan says lockdowns become ‘less likely but possible’ when 70 per cent are jabbed and only ‘highly targeted’ when 80 per cent are vaccinated.
Mr Perrottet said we ‘can’t continue’ to have state-wide lockdowns but did not rule out localised restrictions.
Asked if lockdowns will be needed after the 70 per cent jab rate is reached, he said: ‘I certainly don’t want to see that.
‘I think where the future lies is more targeted interventions in suburbs rather than broader areas.
‘We haven’t got a crystal ball but I think in the future if you’ve got people that have received two doses of the vaccine then that gives us a greater opportunity to be more open but there maybe time when we need to target certain tighter restrictions if there is an outbreak in an area.’
Sydney residents enjoy a picnic in Double Bay on Friday after NSW allowed fully vaccinated people to hang out in groups of five outdoors from September 13
The Treasurer said the government was working with health officials to determine when a suburb lockdown would be needed.
Ms Berejiklian has previously said these local lockdowns would be more like ‘lockouts’ where residents are banned from leaving an area but can still go to a pub or restaurant within it.
‘There are going to be difficulties as we open up, there will always be things that come our way but we’ve just got to face up to it,’ Mr Perrottet said.
‘Every generation before us had a challenge and this is our challenge.’
But the Treasurer vowed the days of a state-wide lockdowns are truly over.
This is not just a health crisis, this is a societal crisis too
‘We just can’t continue to do that for the good of our society,’ he said, pointing to the detrimental impact lockdowns have on mental health, especially for teenagers.
Lifeline is fielding 3,500 calls a day across the country, up from about 2,500 in 2019.
‘We’re seeing overseas that once you get that vaccination rate up and everything opens up then we get back to normality, particularly for younger people, Mr Perrottet said.
‘What I don’t want to see is a generational divide and we want to make sure that our younger people have greater opportunity than we have.
‘There’s going to be issues that come our way over this next period of time but we’re on the pathway to being able to open up safely and support people’s livelihoods.
‘This is not just a health crisis, this is a societal crisis too and we need to make sure that we move together.’
The government has aimed to provide certainty for young people by announcing the return to school will start on October 25 with Kindergarten and year one students.
Years two, six and 11 will return on November 1 and the rest go back on November 8.
NSW leading the way
Mr Perrottet, who has been widely tipped to take over as NSW Liberal leader should Ms Berejiklian retire, said the state has been leading the country in preparing residents to live alongside Covid.
Ms Berejiklian has been talking about vaccination, rather than low case numbers, being the path out of lockdown since July.
In contrast, Victoria – where cases are rising despite much harsher restrictions including banning tennis and golf – only abandoned its commitment to zero-Covid in September.
Mr Perrottet said the state has been leading the country in preparing residents to live alongside Covid. Pictured: Police ensure mask-wearing at Bondi Beach on September 12
Mr Perrottet suggested NSW is more ready to live with Covid because of a philosophical difference between his freedom-favouring Liberal government and the Victorian Labor government which believes in a large and interventionist state.
‘I think the people have done an amazing job in sticking to restrictions such as social distancing and mask-wearing but they’re not pleasant things,’ he said.
‘It’s not the government’s role to provide freedom, the default position is freedom.
‘We put restrictions in place to ensure the health and safety of people and ensure people are ready to go [to open up].
‘I believe NSW can play a leading role in opening up and if that helps the country off the back of it then that’s a very positive thing,’ he said.
Despite the political differences between state governments, Mr Perrottet said the ‘untold story’ of the pandemic was the ‘great collaboration’ between them.
‘I stole a lot of ideas from Treasurer Tim Pallas in Victoria and he stole some of mine,’ he said in reference to discussions on business support packages.
The Treasurer and also said WA has been helpful in providing contact tracers to NSW during the most recent outbreak.
How will the economy respond?
Mr Perrottet is conscious that some businesses will still struggle due to the restrictions at the 70 per cent vaccination threshold – but is adamant that a staged re-opening is the right way to go.
‘The number one role of a government is to keep its people safe and that’s what we’ve done,’ he said.
‘At the same time my role is to make sure the economy and employment is front and centre of our decision-making alongside the health concerns and we balanced that very well last year.’
In a message of hope to small businesses, he said: ‘I know there is short-term pain.
‘But last year we recovered the 300,000 jobs we lost at the height of the pandemic and the economy was stronger at the end and I truly believe that’s where we will be again.’
The state budget in June predicted a deficit of $8.6billion in 2022 due to Covid spending measures including business support – but a surplus by 2025 as the economy recovers.
Mr Perrottet is adamant that a staged re-opening is the right way to go. Pictured: Patrons at the North Bondi RSL before lockdown
Asked if the re-opening plan was too cautious for some locked-down businesses, Mr Perrottet said: ‘I spend much of my day speaking to small businesses, speaking to industry groups about how we can get them open as quickly as possible.
‘It’s hard and it can appear that there are inconsistencies. People can’t married and that’s very tough. You can’t please everyone all the time, there are always competing interests, I accept that.
‘But you’ve got to do what’s right and I think by having a staged response at 70 and then 80 and beyond that we’ll come into a position this summer where trade is higher and we’re going to have a boom quarter in the last quarter of the calendar year.’
The Treasurer said while some people had lost work during lockdown, others who kept their jobs were saving record amounts because they could not spend their income.
‘The savings rate is high and if you look globally that is what happens after a lockdown and I have full confidence that as we come out of lockdown there will be boom in NSW,’ he said.
The NSW government will remove the first tranche of restrictions the Monday after the 70 per cent jab rate is hit, which is likely to be October 18 but could be October 11.
‘As we get close our health teams will give us a pretty clear idea of where they think that will be so we will certainly set that date,’ Mr Perrottet said.
‘We won’t just wake up one day and say ”OK have your freedoms back”.
‘The earlier the better and I think the fact that we set that roadmap has really encouraged people to get vaccinated.
‘People just want life to get back to where it was and the effort of our people has allowed this to happen.’
WHAT CAN YOU DO ON ‘FREEDOM DAY’?
Only fully vaccinated people and those with medical exemptions will have restrictions against them reduced under the Reopening NSW roadmap.
Lesser restrictions for vaccinated people will come into effect on the Monday after NSW hits the 70 per cent double dose target and include:
Gatherings in the home and public spaces:
· Up to five visitors will be allowed in a home where all adults are vaccinated (not including children 12 and under).
· Up to 20 people can gather in outdoor settings.
Venues including hospitality, retail stores and gyms:
· Hospitality venues can reopen subject to one person per 4sqm inside and one person per 2sqm outside, with standing while drinking permitted outside.
· Retail stores can reopen under the one person per 4sqm rule (unvaccinated people will continue to only be able to access critical retail).
· Personal services such as hairdressers and nail salons can open with one person per 4sqm, capped at five clients per premises.
· Gyms and indoor recreation facilities can open under the one person per 4sqm rule and can offer classes for up to 20 people.
· Sporting facilities including swimming pools can reopen.
Stadiums, theatres and major outdoor recreation facilities:
· Major recreation outdoor facilities including stadiums, racecourses, theme parks and zoos can reopen with one person per 4sqm, capped at 5,000 people.
· Up to 500 people can attend ticketed and seated outdoor events.
· Indoor entertainment and information facilities including cinemas, theatres, music halls, museums and galleries can reopen with one person per 4sqm or 75 per cent fixed seated capacity.
Weddings, funerals and places of worship:
· Up to 50 guests can attend weddings, with dancing permitted and eating and drinking only while seated.
· Up to 50 guests can attend funerals, with eating and drinking while seated.
· Churches and places of worship to open subject to one person per 4sqm rule, with no singing.
· Domestic travel, including trips to regional NSW, will be permitted.
· Caravan parks and camping grounds can open.
· Carpooling will be permitted.
Non-vaccinated young people aged under 16 will be able to access all outdoor settings but will only be able to visit indoor venues with members of their household.
Employers must continue to allow employees to work from home if the employee is able to do so.
There will be revised guidance on isolation for close and casual contacts who are fully vaccinated, with details to be provided closer to the reopening date.
· Masks will remain mandatory for all indoor public venues, including public transport, front-of-house hospitality, retail and business premises, on planes and at airports.
· Only hospitality staff will be required to wear a mask when outdoors.
· Children aged under 12 will not need to wear a mask indoors.