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Gift of the jab: Life back to normal as NSW soaks up benefits of being vaccinated

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Thousands of children in NSW are heading back to school for the first time in months as a swathe of COVID-19 restrictions are eased for fully vaccinated adults.

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More than 80 per cent of people over 16 are now fully vaccinated in NSW, triggering a promised second stage easing of restrictions the state emerges from nearly four months of lockdown.

NSW has reported 265 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and five deaths, as thousands of children head back to school and more restrictions are eased for fully vaccinated adults.

There are 606 people in NSW hospitals with COVID and 132 in intensive care.

Victoria has reported 1903 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases and seven deaths, as Melbourne prepares for an early exit from its long-running sixth lockdown

The health department confirmed the state now has 22,327 active cases.

A week after stay-at-home orders lifted and fully vaccinated people were allowed back at NSW pubs and beauty salons, people who have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine are now free to play community sport and have a dance at the pub, and are allowed to do it with larger groups of people.

Students in years 12 and one, as well as kindergarten kids, are returning to classrooms, ahead of other grades who will return next week.

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell says teachers are ready to welcome children back.

“It’s a good day. It’s wonderful we have students in the back in the classroom,” she told Nine Network on Monday.

When a COVID-19 case is identified in a school it usually closes for about a day for cleaning and contact tracing.

But Ms Mitchell says each situation will be now be considered on a case-by-case basis to minimise disruption.

“If it is a kindergarten child and a few kids in the class who are impacted it might be that year group has to stay-at-home for 14 days,” she said.

“If the teacher is fully vaccinated they won’t for instance.”

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said there will be “teething issues” with the return to school “but those challenges do not outweigh the importance of getting kids back in the classroom”.

Outdoor gatherings of up to 50 fully vaccinated people are now permitted, and up to 20 visitors are allowed in a home, provided everyone over the age of 16 is vaccinated.

NSW residents can once again stand up while drinking and even have a dance in most hospitality venues, but not yet in nightclubs, which are allowed to reopen so long as people sit down while they drink and don’t dance.

There’s no limit on weddings and funerals and the five-person cap at hairdressers and beauticians is also gone.

Office workers are no longer required to wear masks at work, but they’re still required in other indoor areas such as on public transport or in a retail shop.

NSW Customer Services Minister Victor Dominello stressed the new freedoms were only for the fully vaccinated but will be expanded to the unvaccinated in December.

“If you are unvaccinated or have only got one dose the old restrictions still apply,” he said.

A special tribute to frontline workers and those who have been vaccinated will be projected onto the sails of the Sydney Opera House on Monday night.

“The Sydney Opera House sails will come alive with reminders of the people who have kept us safe, either through their work or by simply rolling up their sleeve and getting the jab,” Mr Perrottet said.

NSW had “a bright summer ahead” but “this is not going to be an easy time”.

“As we know, as we open up, cases will increase. Hospitalisations will increase … I am confident that as a state we will come together and get through it,” the premier said.

On Sunday, NSW recorded another 301 cases of COVID-19 and 10 deaths.

Some 91.9 per cent of eligible people aged 16 and over have now received at least one dose of a vaccine.

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