Covid-free for days, Australian state to resume singing, dancing, religious services

The changes mark the biggest lifting of precautionary measures since nationwide lockdowns began in March. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australia's most populous state said that from Dec 7 it would remove limits on the number of people at weddings, bars and religious services and end a ban on public-venue dancing as a run of coronavirus-free days prompted a broad downgrade of social distancing rules.

The changes announced by New South Wales on Wednesday (Dec 2) come in time for Australia's summer holidays and Christmas celebrations, and mark the biggest lifting of precautionary measures since nationwide lockdowns began in March to slow the spread of Covid-19.

People in the state, where a third of Australia's 25 million population lives, would also be allowed to drink standing up at pubs, while seated outdoor events could host up to 5,000 people.

Outdoor stadiums could operate at full capacity and theatres at 75 per cent.

New South Wales has recorded no locally-acquired infection for nearly four weeks.

"We're deeply grateful that since the beginning of the pandemic, the community has taken our advice (and) led the way throughout the nation and we want that to continue," New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters.

"Because of that, we are in the strong position we are (in) today," she said.

Though Australia has reported some new coronavirus cases in returned travellers in quarantine, the country has largely stopped community transmission of the virus with contact tracing, distancing measures and mandatory mask-wearing.

None of the country's eight states and territories had reported a locally-acquired infection in the 24 hours to Wednesday.

In New South Wales, some distancing measures will stay when the restrictions are lifted from Monday: the headcount limit was removed, but there were still limits of one person per 2 sq m rule at most indoor venues. Dancefloors are still capped at 50 people, while drinking and standing is only allowed outside.

For Sydney wedding planner Belinda Brett, the lifting meant a return to business as usual after nearly a year of disruption.

"This will stop the rest of our postponements," said Ms Brett, who estimates she has had up to 30 clients put off weddings this year.

"Dancing's such a key part of the cultural tradition of a lot of weddings, equally mingling. A lot of clients didn't want to spend the budget on a wedding where you walk in a room and sit at a table all night."

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