Victorians rejoice as state reopens, saying goodbye to a world record 263 days in lockdown

The longest lockdown in the world was officially lifted on Friday midnight in Victoria with residents celebrating a return back to normal life.

Federation Square CEO Caroline Ralphsmith, Lord Mayor Sally Capp and Big Esso owner Nornie Bero celebrate the state's exit from lockdown.

Federation Square CEO Caroline Ralphsmith, Lord Mayor Sally Capp and Big Esso owner Nornie Bero celebrate the state's exit from lockdown. Source: AAP

As the clock struck midnight in Victoria, residents in the state breathed a sigh of relief after the city’s lockdown officially lifted.

The state lifted its strict lockdown measures at 11:59pm on Thursday, after it reached its 70 per cent double dose target across the state. 

It marked the end of 263 days living under stay-at-home orders amid the country’s worst outbreak of COVID-19 since the pandemic reached Australia’s shores in 2020. 

“We are having no more lockdowns here in Melbourne. It is the most joyous of feelings,” Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Sally Capp said. 

First-year nursing students enjoyed brunch in Bentleigh, a far cry from the hospitals, COVID testing clinics and blood banks they were assisting during the lockdown. 

“I feel so ecstatic because I've been in for too long. It's nice to catch up with my friends as well, so it feels amazing,” one said. 

Restaurant and bar owner of Bar Esso, Nornie Bero, will be reopening her doors to over 150 patrons and she says she can't wait to share her traditional Torres Strait Islander cuisines with the locals who suffered through the lockdown. 

"Melbourne is ready to reopen, we're ready. I want all of my people back and I want to bring our businesses back open again," she said.

She said it was a "rush to the line" to get her venue ready in time for the reopening date, but she is relieved most of her employees are prepared to return to work. 

"We're one of the lucky businesses, 99.95 per cent of our staff are coming back to work with us again so that's really nice." 

While there is much to celebrate in what was the most locked-down city in the world, not all venues are reopening at the capacity they were anticipating. 

In Melbourne's suburb of Oakleigh, a shortage of double vaccinated staff has prevented a number of eateries from resuming a sit-down service. 

The Victorian government previously stated that hospitality staff must be double-vaccinated by 26 November, but can operate with staff who have had at least one dose on 22 October. 

But earlier this week, hospitality venues were surprised to hear the rules had been updated to require all staff to have two vaccine doses before they could return to work. 

Kentro Cafe owner Voula Haralanpopoulos says the change in the health orders put a strain on her business and many others that relied on "freedom day" to boost much-needed sales. 

Cafe owner Voula Haralanpopoulos says the double-vaccine mandate has left her understaffed.
Source: SBS News

“I expected to operate today, make some revenue and pay my staff, and not to go under as a business,” she said. 

“I need three staff on the floor, I need one barista, one staff doing my takeaway … and we all have the same problem, we’re all working in unison.”

The state recorded 2,189 new locally-acquired COVID-19 cases and 16 deaths, and is expected to further ease restrictions when the 80 per cent double dose milestone is reached.

Published 22 October 2021 at 4:12pm, updated 22 October 2021 at 9:00pm
By Phillippa Carisbrooke, Rayane Tamer
Source: SBS News