Sydney's bars and restaurants flung open their doors as a weeks-long lockdown eased Friday, but many remained quiet with only a few cautious patrons returning.
With much of Australia's largest city still working from home and new coronavirus infections still popping up daily, the city centre remained eerily quiet during a rainy morning -- even as baristas, waiters and barmaids returned to work.
"It's really exciting, I just want to look after people again," said Chrissy Flanagan, owner of The Sausage Factory, a snags and beer bistro that has seen an influx of requests for bookings.
"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."
In the city's suburbs, there was a sharper uptick in people venturing out. But it was far from business as usual.
One restaurant in western Sydney went as far as seating cardboard cut-outs and playing canned crowd chatter to try to improve the atmosphere.
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.
Much of Australia has been under a largely voluntary lockdown since March. The country's largest mobile network switched its message pinged to phones on Friday from #StayAtHome to #StaySafe.
The country's chief medical officer echoed that directive: "As people start to go back to some normal activities and open up, please, please be careful," he said, encouraging continued social distancing, handwashing 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.
Copyright AFP. All rights reserved.