Australia's second-largest city ends 111-day virus lockdown

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Outdoor diners are seen dining outdoors in a laneway in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. In Melbourne, Australia's former coronavirus hot spot, restaurants, cafes and bars were allowed to open and outdoor contact sports can resume Wednesday, emerging from a lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)

MELBOURNE – Coffee business owner Darren Silverman pulled his van over and wept when he heard on the radio that Melbourne’s pandemic lockdown would be largely lifted on Wednesday after 111 days.

Silverman was making a home delivery Monday when the announcement was made that restrictions in Australia’s second-largest city would be relaxed. He was overwhelmed with emotions and a sense of relief.

"The difficulty over the journey, when you’ve put 30 years of your life into something that’s suddenly taken away with the prospect of not returning through no fault of your own — I felt like I could be forgiven for pulling over and having a bit of a sob to myself,” he said.

According to the Victoria state government the lockdown changes will allow 6,200 retail stores, 5,800 cafés and restaurants, 1,000 beauty salons and 800 pubs to reopen, impacting 180,000 jobs.

Crowds on the city's streets — where mask wearing remains compulsory — were still thin Wednesday since Melbourne residents are still restricted to traveling no more than 25 kilometers (16 miles) from home and most of the city’s office blocks remain empty as work-from-home orders continue.

And while there were pedestrians on the downtown Bourke Street Mall, it was also clear from the number of now empty shops that many retail outlets and eateries did not survive the lockdown, the city's second since the pandemic began.

But many that are left are reporting record demand from the city's pandemic weary residents, with some restaurants already fully booked a month in advance now that they are no longer restricted to takeout.

“People are anxious to get out, to be able to sit outside at a table and have a cup of a coffee or something to eat,” café owner Maria Iatrou said. “People are really enjoying it and it’s going to be a bit of a crush for the next few weeks while people get that out of their system."