Australia’s most populous restaurants reopened on Friday after a two-month Covid-19 lockdown, boosting the federal government’s bid to get people back in work and the economy back on track.
The easing of some quarantine measures in New South Wales (NSW) state came just a day after the national statistics office reported unprecedented record-high job losses and Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned that worse was still to come.
“While there isn’t too much to be celebrating with the difficult circumstances we face, and particularly yesterday’s unemployment numbers, it is a welcome sign that we are on the way back,” Morrison said on Friday.
In Sydney, locals braved a cold, wet morning to catch up with friends and family over a coffee as cafes, restaurants and bars opened under the proviso they limit patrons to 10 at any one time.
“It is such a treat,” said Jess Best, who met up with a friend in a cafe in the city’s eastern suburbs. “To be able to sit down with other people around and chat with my friend. I can have a normal morning, not hiding away in my home.”
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian cautioned people to remain vigilant and maintain social distancing.
“Easing restrictions has failed in so many places around the world and I don’t want that to happen in NSW, I want people to have personal responsibility for the way we respond,” she said.
NSW and Victoria, the country’s second-most populous state, reported a total of 29 new cases on Friday, a bump up from the recent daily average of fewer than 20.
Australia has recorded just over 7,000 COVID-19 cases, including 98 deaths, significantly below the levels reported in North America and Europe. Officials said on Friday that only 50 people remained in hospital.
Officials have credited lockdown measures adopted in March, including closing the country’s borders and ordering people to stay home unless on essential business, with constraining the virus’ spread.
State and territory leaders across the country are now rolling out a three-stage plan, following different timetables, to remove lockdown measures.
Morrison wants the bulk of restrictions gone by July to revive a national economy that had experienced more than two decades of uninterrupted growth before the pandemic. Most economists are now forecasting a recession.