Horse race marks Sydney's emergence from long COVID-19 lockdown


FILE PHOTO: Staff members cheer after shooting confetti in the air to celebrate the re-opening of SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium to visitors, following an extended closure due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown orders, in Sydney, Australia, October 14, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

(Reuters) - Thousands of Sydney residents flocked to a prominent horse race on Saturday, as Australia's biggest city emerges from a strict COVID-19 lockdown and the nation begins to live with the coronavirus through extensive vaccination.

Up to 10,000 fully vaccinated spectators can now attend races such as The Everest https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/horse-racing-third-time-lucky-nature-strip-everest-2021-10-16 in Sydney, Australia's richest turf horse race, and the country's most famous, Melbourne Cup Day, on Nov. 2.

New South Wales state, of which Sydney is the capital, reached its target of 80% of people fully vaccinated on Saturday, well ahead of the rest of Australia.

"80% in NSW! Been a long wait but we've done it," New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Twitter.

The state reported 319 new coronavirus cases, all of the Delta variant, and two deaths on Saturday. Many restrictions were eased in New South Wales on Monday, when it reached 70% double vaccinations.

Neighbouring Victoria, where the capital Melbourne has been in lockdown for weeks, reported 1,993 new cases and seven deaths, including the state's youngest victim, a 15-year-old girl.

Victoria is expected to reach 70% double vaccination before Oct. 26 and ease its restrictions more slowly than New South Wales has, drawing criticism from the federal government on Saturday.

"It is really sad that Victorians are being held back," said Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

Australia is set to gradually lift its 18-month ban on international travel https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/covid-19-infections-linger-near-record-levels-australias-victoria-2021-10-14 from next month for some states when 80% of people aged 16 and over are fully vaccinated. As of Friday, 67.2% of Australians were fully inoculated, and 84.4% had received at least one shot.

The country closed its international borders in March 2020, since then allowing only a limited number of people to leave or citizens and permanent residents abroad to return, requiring them to quarantine for two weeks.

Australia's overall coronavirus numbers are low compared to many other developed countries, with just over 140,000 cases and 1,513 deaths.

(This story corrects 67.2 to 67.2% in ninth paragraph)

(Reporting in Melbourne by Lidia Kelly; Editing by William Mallard)

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