Sydney is suddenly in party mode.
After nearly four months in lockdown, its five million residents are preparing to loosen the shackles imposed by COVID-19, pop the champagne corks, fire up the barbecue and celebrate their first taste of freedom since July.
From Monday (Oct 11), dubbed “freedom day”, with 70 per cent of the eligible population fully vaccinated, New South Wales will allow the re-opening of all retail outlets, pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres, as well as limited travel.
Once the vaccination rate hits 80 per cent a week or two later, there will be even fewer restrictions with travellers allowed to drive and holiday anywhere within New South Wales.
Hotelier Brian Barry, who runs a small five star, family-run boutique establishment on the Central Coast just north of Sydney, says people are desperate to get away and splurge. “There’s a lot of money out there because no one’s been spending,” he says.
Caviar, crayfish and premium imported wines are likely to be in strong demand as his guests emerge from nearly 16 weeks of strictly imposed stay-at-home rules.
With most of his rooms fully booked for months ahead, he believes this is the start of a regional tourist boom.
The irony is not lost on Brian.
“If you think COVID has been a tragedy, it’s also provided an enormous marketing boost for the Central Coast,” he admits.
It is a similar picture in Sydney where live theatre, concerts and outdoor events are expected to transform the harbour city into the social epicentre of the state.
Publicists and party planners are working around the clock to meet the demand from clients keen to catch up on lost time.
PR consultant Chrissy Biasotto, who organises an annual dinner for an international beauty brand – one of the most sought after invitations of the year – says it usually takes four to five months to prepare.
“We’re now having to accelerate the planning and will be working to expedite all the bells and whistles for an early December celebration,” she says.
It will not be easy given the density limits imposed in some locations, under current NSW health rules.
And then there is the tricky question of who has received the jab and who has not.
Throughout October and November, non-vaccinated individuals will be forbidden entry to many retail outlets, as well as pubs, clubs and many social and sporting facilities.
It promises to be a minefield for shops and restaurants which are legally obliged to ban anyone who cannot provide proof of inoculation against COVID-19.
Any breach of the rules could end in hefty fines for owners and customers alike.
Only those who have been fully vaccinated will be allowed to participate in Sydney’s newfound freedom. Others will have to wait until December and some have branded the law a form of social apartheid.
Even so, health authorities are adamant that lockdown restrictions have to be eased slowly in order to manage the highly infectious Delta variant over the long term.