Dominic Perrottet used his first major press conference as New South Wales Premier to bring forward several freedoms at different vaccination milestones.
Mr Perrottet had long called for businesses to reopen as quickly as possible, and his announcement means that people will be able to gather in bigger groups and go back to work sooner.
“Today – actually, yesterday – marked a great milestone
for our state with our 70 per cent double-dose vaccination rate,” Mr Perrottet told reporters on Thursday.
“We have always said that vaccination is the key to our freedom, and the sacrifices and the effort of people right across NSW have ensured that we can open up as quickly and safely as possible.”
The announcement follows speculation that the Premier was keen on speeding up the roadmap.
Back in July, Mr Perrottet opposed extending the lockdown in Sydney before COVID-19 cases skyrocketed across NSW.
Seventy per cent freedoms
The 70 per cent freedoms that are due to come into play on October 11 have been expanded ahead of schedule.
The previous limit of five fully vaccinated household guests (excluding children under 12) has been upped to 10.
Similarly, the previous cap of 20 fully vaccinated adults at outdoor gatherings, such as picnics, has been upped to 30.
The ban on singing at religious services has also been loosened to allow performers and choirs of up to 10 people.
Indoor swimming pools will now also be allowed to reopen. Previously, only outdoor pools were set to open at the 70 per cent milestone.
As for everything else, the pre-existing rules are still set to be implemented as planned.
That means all shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, pubs, hairdressers, salons and gyms will be able to reopen under the one-person-per-four-square-metres rule.
Eighty per cent freedoms
The freedoms due to come into play on the Monday after NSW hits 80 per cent double-dose vaccine coverage in late October have also been expanded.
With the 10-person limit for fully vaccinated household guests being brought forward to the 70 per cent milestone, the 80 per cent limit has been upped to 20 household guests.
Meanwhile, 50 fully vaccinated adults will be allowed to gather outdoors at the 80 per cent mark. Unvaccinated adults will still only be allowed to gather in pairs.
At the 80 per cent milestone, Mr Perrottet is pushing for people to get back into the office.
From this point, fully vaccinated people won’t have to wear masks inside office spaces.
Venues such as stadiums and theme parks will still be allowed to have up to 5000 people.
Nightclubs will also be able to reopen, although dancing will be banned until December 1.
“That change was more of a tidy-up change, because we had nightclubs closed until 1 December,” Mr Perrottet said.
“But in my view, if they’re operating within their licence arrangements and they want to use their premises in a way that’s not technically a nightclub, but a bar, well, that just makes perfect sense.”
Travel within NSW is still set to kick off at this stage of the vaccine rollout.
School’s back sooner
The return to school always had its own roadmap separate to the 70 and 80 per cent vaccination milestones.
The original plan was a staggered approach, beginning with kindergarten, Year 1 and Year 12 on October 25.
Other year groups were supposed to gradually return to class in November.
Now, kindergarten, Year 1 and Year 12 will all return to face-to-face learning on October 18.
All other year groups will go back to school on October 25, which Mr Perrottet described as “a major relief for parents and their sanity”.
Teachers at public schools will have to be vaccinated.
“As of 10pm last night, I can tell you that 45,000 teachers have told us that they are fully vaccinated and ready to return to work,” Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said.
“Those numbers will grow in the coming days as that data is collated.”
What do health authorities reckon?
Neither chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant, nor any of the other senior NSW Health officials who had become mainstays of former premier Gladys Berejiklian’s press conferences, were present during Mr Perrottet’s announcement.
When asked about the chief health officer’s absence, Mr Perrottet replied: “Dr Chant is one of my favourite constituents in Epping.”
However, the state government insists that the revised restrictions are still in line with advice from health authorities.
“I think ‘steady as she goes’ is what the Premier is doing,” NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard told reporters.
Mr Perrottet went on to say that “every single change to this roadmap has been supported and approved by NSW Health”.
Nine News later reported that Dr Chant did not fully endorse the changes to the roadmap.
UNSW epidemiologist Professor Mary-Louise McLaws told ABC News that in her opinion, it is risky to ease restrictions when younger people are not comprehensively vaccinated, adding that there are still “households that have mixed levels of vaccination”.
“They’ve only had since the beginning of September to get fully vaccinated, and that’s really only a month,” Professor McLaws said.
“They need a bit more time. So, I’d be really delighted if they held off this until they got to 80 per cent or more of the under-40s.”