Melbourne reopens as world's most locked-down city eases pandemic restrictions

AFP

Melbourne residents flocked to the city's restaurants and hair salons in the early hours of Friday after the world's most locked-down city emerged from its latest spate of restrictions designed to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Australia's second-largest city has so far endured 262 days, or nearly nine months, of restrictions during six separate lockdowns since March 2020, representing the longest cumulative lockdown for any city in the world.

Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, last year went through 234 straight days of lockdown.

In Melbourne, people were seen cheering and clapping from their balconies, while cars honked horns continuously at 11:59 pm on Thursday when lockdown restrictions in place since early August ended.

Many venues, including food outlets and even haircutters, opened at the unusual hour for the occasion.

Josh Mihan, owner of The Bearded Man barber shop in Melbourne, told Reuters he is nearly booked out for the next month and he is encouraging customers to make appointments for Christmas.

"We all love cutting hair and being on the floor is such a lovely feeling, being around people," he said. "I have urged our customer base, make sure you have booked in your Christmas cut."

Similar jubilant scenes were seen in the country's largest city, Sydney, almost two weeks ago, when authorities started easing restrictions as COVID-19 vaccination rates rose.

Just over 70 per cent of adults in Australia are now fully vaccinated and many residents are planning to fly overseas again as international border restrictions start to ease from November.

From November 1, fully vaccinated international travellers arriving in Sydney and Melbourne will no longer need to quarantine.

Qantas Airways Ltd said on Friday that it would speed up plans to restart flights to many destinations and upsize some planes amid "massive demand".

Qantas said it would launch a new route from Sydney to Delhi in early December and bring forward plans for flights to Singapore, Fiji, Johannesburg, Bangkok and Phuket.

"This is a wonderful day - Australia is ready for take-off," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said shortly after the Qantas announcement. A quarantine-free travel bubble between Australia and Singapore could operate from next month, Morrison said, if an agreement is reached as expected.

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