For NSW residents, it was like a release from prison as people put the lockdown at least partially behind them and made their way to restaurants, cafes and pubs on Friday, 15 May.
This was Australia’s most populous state’s first day of a range of newfound freedoms that were announced just under a week ago by Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
Restaurants and cafes located in pubs and clubs are now open, providing they allow no more than 10 patrons at a time and adhere to social-distancing requirements. Takeaway services continue as before, but bars and gaming facilities remain closed.
Local and regional travel is still not allowed. But people may be outside for recreational purposes.
State leaders welcome the easing of the restrictions
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian asked people to “please be extra careful as we ease some restrictions in NSW today”.
You can see her Tweet here:
“This is an important first step, and we want it to be a success, so that as venues transition back from closure they do so safely both for their staff and their customers,” NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said.
The state’s Deputy Premier, John Barilaro, was particularly pleased for people living outside the major metro areas. “It’s been a tough few months but we are starting to see some wins, first on the health front and now in getting the economy back,” he said. “This is welcome news for many regional towns.”
You can see his Tweet here:
The NSW Australian Hotels Association said the decision to add pubs and clubs to the list of venues being allowed to reopen was a victory for common sense.
“We see it as a small step to venues being allowed to reopen in a much more normal fashion. We are committed to ensuring that patrons and licensees alike take this opportunity seriously and see it as privilege,” the association’s John Green said.
Local residents embrace the reopening with enthusiasm
The reopening kicked off in fine style just after midnight, with the Sokyo at The Star Sydney restaurant opening its doors to a star-studded select group of celebrities and high-profile Sydneysiders.
By the morning, local media were reporting long queues outside many eateries as diners waited in line for their first away-from-home meal in a while.
While some establishments have elected to remain closed as they believe the restrictions make opening unviable, others have rushed to take maximum advantage.
“It’s been great. A really positive response. We have had bookings through today, [we have] bookings tomorrow [and] we are booked out on Sunday,” Joe Maree, manager at the Rose Hotel in Sydney, told Guardian Australia.
The business model of the various eateries does vary, though. Some are operating on a bookings-only basis, while others are first-come-first-served.
Prince of York, a wine bar in Sydney, will only accept a group booking for 10 people and a minimum spend of $100 per person.
Some restaurants are offering only takeaway and home-delivery dining, while electing to keep their dining areas closed until such time as they can cater for larger numbers.