Melbourne is getting back to something resembling normal life after 111 days of strict lockdown.
The Victoria state government has allowed retail stores, cafes and restaurants, beauty salons and pubs to reopen, meaning nearly 200,000 people can go back to work.
Not all restrictions have been lifted: mask wearing is still mandatory and Melburnians are still restricted to travelling no more than 25km from home. Work-from-home orders are still in force and so the city’s office blocks remain mostly empty.
The rest of Australia managed to contain their second waves but Victoria was forced to impose especially stringent restrictions because of the size of the outbreak there.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews had faced weeks of pressure from local businesses and the federal government to reopen the state for the sake of the economy but he refused to do so until Monday, when he announced the state had recorded no new infections in the preceding 24-hour period.
Tuesday also saw no new infections, giving Melbourne its first consecutives days with no new infections since early March. Two new cases were reported on Wednesday, but they were infected by known cases and were already in isolation.
City coffee business owner Darren Silverman told the Associated Press he was pleased to be open again not just for business reasons, but for the mental well-being of his staff, some of whom had been isolating alone at home for months.
During the lockdown, his business survived by selling wholesale coffee online. He says his downtown cafe has now reopened but will struggle until office workers return.
He told AP, “We’re told that that the stay-at-home order for office workers will probably be in place for the foreseeable future, certainly into the New Year, which is going to make life in the central business district for retailers and hospitality very, very difficult.”
However, city residents are enjoying the return to life and many restaurants are already fully booked a month in advance now that they are no longer restricted to takeaway.
“People are anxious to get out, to be able to sit outside at a table and have a cup of a coffee or something to eat,” cafe owner Maria Iatrou said. “People are really enjoying it and it’s going to be a bit of a crush for the next few weeks while people get that out of their system.”