Two years after COVID-19 prompted the first lockdowns and emergency public health measures, residents of NSW, Victoria and the ACT have kicked up their heels as the summer COVID-19 outbreak fades.
As dance floors once again reverberated to base beat of music and dancing feet, authorities are quietly confident cases have plateaued, with some also scrapping most QR check-in requirements and density limits.
Indoor dancefloors reopened as part of a mass easing of restrictions on Friday, with the changes coming as calls grow for consistency in COVID restrictions across Australia.
AI Group chief executive Innes Willox says bringing together and rationalising the plethora of rules across the nation should be a top priority for the next national cabinet meeting, due for the second week of March.
Victoria recorded 20 new virus deaths on Saturday, as well as 6820 fresh infections, while NSW reported 12 deaths and 7615 new virus cases.
There were another 10 deaths in Queensland together with 4919 cases, while the ACT recorded 355 new infections.
There were another two deaths in South Australia, a woman in her 70s and a man in his 60s, as the state reported 1336 new cases.
Tasmania recorded one additional fatality, a man in his 60s who was already being treated for pneumonia and tested positive to COVID-19 the day before he died. In total, the Apple Isle recorded 585 new daily cases.
Western Australia’s turn
Infections are rising in Western Australia with 257 new local cases and another five related to travel, while numbers dropped to 835 in the Northern Territory on Saturday.
Meanwhile Victoria is preparing to welcome the first unvaccinated international travellers to its newly-built $200 million quarantine hub.
The 1000-room facility, which will replace hotels and become the state’s only quarantine site from April, will officially open to residents on Monday.
Australia has passed 53 million COVID-19 vaccines administered, with federal health minister Greg Hunt noting this includes more than 60 per cent of eligible people having received their boosters.
However, experts are warning some restrictions may need to be reintroduced in the lead-up to winter.
University of Melbourne epidemiologist Tony Blakely welcomes their easing but warns new virus variants could emerge in coming months.
“It’s like a tabletop mountain. We’ve gone up the curve, we’re coming down, and as we come down, that’s the time you release these restrictions,” he told the Seven Network on Friday.
“There will be some little bumps on the way into winter with extra infection happening amongst those people who weren’t infected in the first wave, and also some of us whose vaccine immunity wanes.”
For now, though, pubs, clubs, eateries and other venues are revelling in new found freedoms.
Sydney publican Mitchell Crum says things went viral at the Lord Gladstone hotel when he posted a Facebook event on Friday to celebrate restrictions easing.
Colleague Graham Cordery has also declared a “return to normal” at his live music venue, The Soda Factory, where he says there’s “a real air of positivity”.
Thirty-six deaths were reported nationally on Friday as well as 24,910 new cases.
Western Australia has announced it will reopen its borders from March 3, bringing to an end almost 700 days of seclusion.