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  15 Sep 2021, 09:44

Sydney lifts Covid curfews as case numbers stabilise

  SYDNEY, Sept 15, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - Sydney authorities moved to lift curfews
for coronavirus hotpots Wednesday, as infection numbers stabilised and
vaccination rates surged.

  Almost three months after activity in Australia's largest city was frozen
by lockdown orders, state authorities announced easing restrictions for the
worst-hit areas.

  New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the 9 pm to 5 am curfew for
virus hotspots would be lifted from Wednesday, in what Sydneysiders hope
signals the beginning of the end of a long lockdown.

  Infection rates appear to have plateaued at around 1,300 a day and 80
percent of people in Australia's most populous state have received at least
one vaccine dose.

  "We've seen a stabilisation in the last few days," said state premier
Berejiklian, while urging residents to continue to be vigilant and respect
stay-at-home orders.

  "We don't want to see that trend go the wrong way."

  Most Sydney residents can only leave home to buy food, exercise outdoors or
seek medical treatment.

  Schools, bars, restaurants and offices have been closed since late June and
residents are not allowed more than five kilometres (three miles) from their
homes.

  Berejiklian has said many restrictions will lift when 70 percent of
residents are fully vaccinated, sometime in October.

  "We know it's been a struggle but there are only a few weeks left before we
get to 70 percent double dose," she said.

  An 18-month-old ban on Australians leaving the country is set to expire in
mid-December, raising the prospect that international travel could also
resume.

  Researchers at the Burnet Institute said this week that it appears that
restrictions on hotspots introduced in late August have "worked to halt the
rise in cases".

  But they warned restrictions would still be needed to stem outbreaks.

  Authorities have said reopening will only apply to those who are fully
vaccinated.

  "It's black and white. If you're not vaccinated, you can't go to a
restaurant. You can't go to a cafe," Berejiklian said.

  During much of the pandemic, Australia saw some of the world's lowest
infection rates as it pursued a policy of "zero Covid" -- suppressing the
spread of the virus with aggressive contact tracing, testing and quarantine.

  The fast-spreading Delta variant forced that strategy to be abandoned in
favour of stepping up once-glacial vaccination rates.

  Berejiklian warned that with 20 percent of people still completely
unvaccinated, hospitalisations and deaths are likely to spike even as Sydney
reopens.

  "The next couple of months will be the most pleasing in terms of getting
out of the lockdown but also the most challenging," she said.

  "We will have to balance every day, the risks between putting pressure on
the hospital system, but also allowing people to live freely and allowing
businesses to start up again."

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