Aussies book out Sydney bars as virus measures ease

Sydney (AFP) –


Sydney's bars and restaurants opened their doors to customers Friday as a weeks-long lockdown eased, with owners hoping a busy booking calendar will make up for restrictions on crowd numbers.

Although social distancing and work-from-home arrangements kept the city's streets quiet on Friday morning, venues said locals were eager to get back into bars and restaurants over the weekend under the relaxed rules.

Chrissy Flanagan, owner of The Sausage Factory, a bistro in Sydney told AFP bookings were rolling in.

"Every restaurant in town, whether they're opening or not, has been bombarded with requests for bookings," Flanagan said.

"The desire to sit in a place that is not your house with your mates and have a drink is truly overwhelming," she said. "I am not sure what could be more Australian than that."

From Friday, bars and restaurants in New South Wales can accommodate up to 10 customers at a time, so long as social distancing rules are respected.

Yulli's Brews director James Harvey said the customer limit would make it tough, for a brewery which can accommodate 150 people normally, but opening the doors again was exciting.

"It's really marginal compared to what we normally trade at but it's still something," Harvey said as staff prepared for a single table for two - the first sitting since reopening.

Similarly eager locals had booked out limited spots in his warehouse-sized venue for days, he added.

Flanagan said the number of bookings highlighted not just a readiness to get out of the house but a willingness to support local business.

"I've never seen such an honest and sincere interest in the fate of a place as there is now," she said.

Much of Australia has been under a largely voluntary lockdown since March.

But while some locals enjoyed the new freedom of sipping coffee at cafes and a steady stream of traffic headed across Sydney's Harbour Bridge on Friday, it was still a far cry from the bustling city before lockdown.

"As people start to go back to some normal activities and open up, please, please be careful," Australia's chief medical officer cautioned, encouraging continued social distancing, hand-washing and other precautionary measures.

Almost 100 people have died and 7,000 cases of COVID-19 have been detected nationwide. But with new daily infections now in low double digits, the government has been keen to reopen the economy.

Millions of Australians have lost their jobs or seen hours cut, and the country is headed for its first recession in almost three decades.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia would "move safely" to reopen the economy.

His government has effectively bankrolled swathes of it -- propping up wages and urging rent deferrals in order to keep businesses on life support until signs of economic life return.

Australia is banking that months of preparation in shoring up emergency care and quickly developed COVID-19 track-and-trace capabilities will be enough to contain any new outbreaks.