Australian doctors warned a too-rapid easing of COVID-19 curbs in Sydney could put pressure on health systems and risk lives, as the city prepares for key restrictions to be lifted next week after more than 100 days in lockdown.
Stay-at-home orders are due to be lifted on Monday after New South Wales state this week hit its 70 percent target of full vaccination for its adult population, and owners of restaurants and other public venues are now scrambling to arrange supplies and staffing.
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While an easing of restrictions on travel for Sydneysiders outside of their local government areas had previously been flagged, authorities on Thursday also decided to bump up permitted limits for home gatherings, weddings and funerals - earning the ire of the Australian Medical Association (AMA).
"New South Wales must not be reckless at this critical time," AMA President Omar Khorshid said in a statement, adding that "too fast or too early" could result in avoidable deaths and the reintroduction of lockdowns.
State Premier Dominic Perrottet has defended his decision to bring forward the easing of several restrictions amid a steady fall in infections, saying the pandemic "is an economic crisis too.”
Officials have a staggered plan to ease limits on gatherings as full inoculation hits 70 percent, 80 percent and 90 percent of adults and while movement around the city will be permitted from Monday, restrictions on travelling to regional areas remain.
Stuart Knox, owner of Fix Wine, a downtown restaurant and bar, said it was exciting to be re-opening even if preparing was difficult.
"We're still flying blind, we've got no idea as a CBD restaurant how many people are coming back and it's all murky what we're going to deal with," he said.
He added he was still unsure how to check patrons' vaccination status as required since a promised smartphone app was not yet operational.
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Daily infections in New South Wales rose on Friday to 646 cases, the majority in Sydney, up from 587 on Thursday. They had previously fallen for the past seven days as first-dose inoculations in people over 16 near 90 percent. Eleven new deaths were registered.
State Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said genomic sequencing has uncovered a new delta strain in eight new cases and more tests will be conducted to trace the source.