There were no fireworks, and the weather proved miserly, but there was nonetheless an atmosphere of elation as businesses large and small reopened on Monday to celebrate the end of Sydney’s lockdown.
Sydney residents queued outside hairdressers, gyms, bars and even clothing stores that threw open their doors as soon as they were legally allowed to do so.
At 12.01 am, Paddington Hairdresser Alan Buki welcomed back his first customers in over 106 days – with extended opening hours.
“We’re doing pretty much a 21-hour marathon, which is very exciting. We’re working from 12:01am to 9pm Monday night,” the small business owner told SBS News.
Restrictions have lifted on the fully vaccinated, with consumers required to prove they have had two doses and must wear masks indoors.
Some 73.5 per cent of the state’s residents aged 16 and over were fully vaccinated as of Sunday.
Mr Buki initially entertained the notion of reopening at midnight as a joke, but demand for a fresh cut proved incredibly popular.
“I mentioned it to a client, and I said ‘why don’t we do your hair at 12:01am?,’” he said.
“Surprisingly, my client said, ‘If you do that, I’ll meet you in the salon at midnight.’ So that started off happening and then before I knew it, we were inundated with many appointments.”
Mark Raymond and his partner were among the first customers to enjoy a long-awaited trim.
“It’s been interesting to see how hairstyles have changed over the months! It’s been difficult and trying to comb my hair and trying to look bit more respectable,” he told SBS News.
“I’m very excited to be back. I’m very glad that we can have a haircut and I’m looking forward to getting back into the office and working again.”
At Neutral Bay restaurant Maisys, the music was pumping just after midnight, as diners made up for time lost in lockdown.
One diner, Ron, was celebrating with his family for the first time since returning to Australia, stranded overseas for over a year during the pandemic, arriving in Sydney as the city went into lockdown.
“This is the first time I can celebrate and be with my family,” he told SBS News.
Manager Holly Shepherd said she was pleasantly surprised at how many customers remembered to come back to the 24-hour cafe.
“It’s like my funny bones were tickling in that it was quite exciting [to reopen] and as the time passed by until 12… it felt really good,” she told SBS News.
Queues were seen snaking around the block outside Kmart stores in the city’s west in the lead up to the midnight lifting of restrictions.
There were long lines outside the Canterbury Leagues Club too – as locals who had lived under the state’s harshest restrictions eagerly awaited their first cold brew in months.
Simon Cook, CEO of the West Ashfield Leagues Club, was rapt to be welcoming patrons back.
“It’s been a long 16 weeks, really felt for the staff throughout this period, and our very loyal patrons who’ve been unable to use our facilities,” he said.
“It’s great to see about 150 people have rocked up at about 12 o’clock tonight. That’s a really good start for what will be a long journey ahead.”
“And we’re really excited now to be able to look into the future with much more certainty than we’ve had just recently.”
Premier New South Wales Dominic Perrottet said he was more excited than nervous about the reopening.
“I think that it’s a big day for our state after a long 100 days of lockdown… There are going to be challenges as we move through this… But I think if everyone treats it and each other with respect and kindness during this period, we’re going to open up safely,” he told ABC News Breakfast on Monday.
The Premier was asked if he would now rule out reintroducing statewide lockdown restrictions, even if case numbers rise following the re-opening.
“Our intention is not to go backwards, but as you say, there will be challenges that come our way which we may not foresee,” he said.
“With the higher vaccination rates that we’ve seen in our state, the enormous efforts that people have made, that’s been the key to opening up our state as safely and as freely as possible.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Monday’s milestone was one made possible by vaccination.
“Today is a day so many have been looking forward to…we’ll celebrate being with family and friends, getting a haircut, grabbing a meal together, going to the pub and having a beer with your mates,” he told reporters outside The Lodge.
“Whether you are in a state like New South Wales which is opening up today, a state like Victoria that soon will be, or over in the west or up in Queensland, where the impact of COVID has not been the same…still we need those vaccines to ensure that when COVID inevitably comes, that in those states you will be able to continue on as you have.”
Monday also marked the end of 14 days of quarantine for Mr Morrison at The Lodge in Canberra after his trip to the United States.