NSW’s local COVID cases have fallen to their lowest level in more than two months as fully vaccinated residents enjoyed the return of more freedoms.
There were 265 community virus cases across the state on Monday – the lowest 24-hour tally since 262 reported on August 8.
There were also another five deaths. The state’s toll from the outbreak that began in mid-June has risen to 475.
The update came as thousands of children in NSW headed back to school for the first time in months as a swathe of COVID-19 restrictions are eased for fully vaccinated adults.
More than 80 per cent of people over 16 are now fully vaccinated in NSW, triggering a promised second stage easing of restrictions as the state emerges from nearly four months of lockdown.
A week after stay-at-home orders lifted and fully vaccinated people were allowed back at NSW pubs and beauty salons, people who have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine can now also play community sport and have a dance at the pub, and are allowed to do it with larger groups of people.
Students in years 12 and one, as well as kindergarten kids, are returning to classrooms, ahead of other grades who will return next week.
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said teachers were ready to welcome back children.
“It’s a good day. It’s wonderful we have students in the back in the classroom,” she told the Nine Network on Monday.
When a COVID-19 case is identified in a school, it usually closes for about a day for cleaning and contact tracing.
But Ms Mitchell said each situation would now be considered on a case-by-case basis to minimise disruption.
“If it is a kindergarten child and a few kids in the class who are impacted, it might be that year group has to stay-at-home for 14 days,” she said.
“If the teacher is fully vaccinated they won’t, for instance.”
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said there will be “teething issues” with the return to school “but those challenges do not outweigh the importance of getting kids back in the classroom”.
Outdoor gatherings of up to 50 fully vaccinated people are now permitted in NSW, and up to 20 visitors are allowed in a home, provided everyone over the age of 16 is vaccinated.
NSW residents can once again stand up while drinking and even have a dance in most hospitality venues, but not yet in nightclubs, which are allowed to reopen so long as people sit down while they drink and don’t dance.
There’s no limit on weddings and funerals and the five-person cap at hairdressers and beauticians is also gone.
Office workers are no longer required to wear masks at work. But masks are still required in other indoor areas such as on public transport or in shops.
NSW Customer Services Minister Victor Dominello stressed the new freedoms were for the fully vaccinated only. They will be expanded to the unvaccinated in December.
“If you are unvaccinated or have only got one dose, the old restrictions still apply,” he said.
A tribute to frontline workers and those who have been vaccinated will be projected onto the sails of the Sydney Opera House on Monday night.
“The Sydney Opera House sails will come alive with reminders of the people who have kept us safe, either through their work or by simply rolling up their sleeve and getting the jab,” Mr Perrottet said.
NSW had “a bright summer ahead” but “this is not going to be an easy time”.
“As we know, as we open up, cases will increase. Hospitalisations will increase … I , am confident that as a state we will come together and get through it,” he said.