It will be a very different summer for Australians this year thanks to the coronavirus, even as cases drop and borders start to re-open.
As things get back to normal and even Bunnings sausage sizzles return in NSW and ACT, some restrictions will be in place for some time.
Melbourne University epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely said Australia had got better at living with the virus and was headed towards a period of low cases.
He said Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland were now likely to experience long periods with no community transmission.
“I have confidence we will keep the virus low, it’s not going to be perfect but it’s going to be a lot better,” he said.
Deakin University Professor Catherine Bennett said if people acted sensibly, this would maximise the choices of what they would be allowed to do.
If people kept their distance from each other, even outdoors, this would help prevent the spread of the coronavirus and ensure that places like beaches weren’t closed down.
“It will keep our choices and freedoms so we can keep doing those things safely and we’ll be less likely to have rules if we can just leave it to people’s sensible judgment,” she said.
Bennett said if more people downloaded the CovidSafe app and wore masks when it mattered, this would also give authorities more confidence to lift rules.
“Having Covid-safe things in place is about allowing us to make the most of summer,” she said.
So what kind of Covid-normal summer will Australians be able to have?
Will there be an office party?
Theoretically it should be possible to have an office Christmas party but many bosses may not be able to afford the traditional knees-up.
Those who do will likely have an outdoor event rather than the typical messy bar/club night.
Blakely thinks it’s also possible that those in Melbourne will have to wear a mask at Christmas functions, although there is still two months to go so this may change.
Many employees may have to make do with a Christmas hamper.
Beaches may be closed
Heading to the beach this summer will be very different. Entry will be restricted during busy times and drones will patrol some coastlines to ensure there is social distancing.
Groups of more than 20 won’t be allowed and the NSW Government says beachgoers should “keep a beach towel length” between each other.
Waverley Council, which oversees Sydney’s popular Bondi Beach, says entry will be blocked once capacity is reached.
The council will put barriers in place and “beach ambassadors” will be positioned at entry points to let people know they can’t enter.
Entry to the Bondi to Bronte coastal walk will also be restricted.
“If groups exceed 20 people, rangers will speak to the group and remind them of the current PHOs [public health orders]. If large groups refuse to disperse or move on, then police will be called to assist,” Waverley Mayor Paula Masselos said.
“Please, if our beaches or parks look busy, come back another time or use that time to visit our local businesses who need your support.
“Again, this is not going to be a normal summer, we all need to adapt and do our bit by staying safe when visiting our public places.”
Surf lifesavers have extra measures including PPE (personal protective equipment) and modified procedures to help those who get into trouble.
Lifesavers will also be providing authorities information on beach attendance.
Surf Life Saving NSW CEO Steve Pearce is urging the public to be patient.
“Please don’t take unnecessary risks that could put your life and those you love in danger as well as put unnecessary strain on our volunteers,” Pearce said.
“We are prepared but we need the co-operation of everyone to keep our beaches open and safe for everyone to enjoy.”
Smaller groups for Christmas lunch
Signs are looking good that family and friends will be able to gather for the traditional Christmas lunch but may have to think twice about cramming a big group into a small space, especially if grandma is attending.
“People will have to be more careful if elderly members are present,” Bennett said.
“I think people can use their own judgment to make things less risky, especially if they are inviting people into their home they haven’t seen in a long time.
“There will be some limits on gatherings and people should organise things so they are not too crowded even if they are within the number limit.”
Bennett said coronavirus case numbers would hopefully be low enough for people to get their loved ones out of aged care facilities for the day.
“I would have a smaller crowd if you are bringing someone older home for Christmas,” she said.
However, a game of backyard cricket still seems like a safe bet.
Masks won’t be going anywhere
Doing your Christmas shopping and scrambling for a Boxing Day bargain could require a mask. It’s also likely masks will be worn on public transport for a long time yet.
Melbourne is the only place in Australia where it is mandatory for people to wear masks and Blakely said he believes mandatory masks on public transport and in busy shopping centres would probably be in place until next year at least.
“It will be some time, if at all, before Victoria would say that masks weren’t required in a busy Bunnings and on public transport — but it is too far away to speculate,” he said.
However, Blakely said there should be a shift from “mass masking” to “smarter masking” as authorities got community transmission under control.
“If the risk is low, then you probably don’t need it if you are walking your dog, in an environment outdoors and not in a high density of people,” he said.
“However, if you are in George St [Sydney] bumping elbows with people, you may have to put a mask on.
“I strongly suspect that masks will remain compulsory on transport [in Melbourne] and in indoor environments until a vaccine is available, unless we have a good run of community transmission.”
Your Sunday session will have a different view
If you like drinking outdoors late at night, this summer could be right up your alley.
Governments are announcing plans to make outdoor dining easier, including plans to close off streets in Melbourne.
The Victorian Government said streets could be made one-way to accommodate outdoor seating and alfresco dining may be allowed in laneways in Melbourne.
The Victorian Government is also providing grants to businesses to convert spaces like rooftops and courtyards into usable spaces, and to pay for umbrellas, outdoor furniture, screens and other equipment.
There will also be physical improvements to the CBD streetscape, which could include wider footpaths, bollards and street planter boxes.
Changes to outdoor liquor licensing rules will also be introduced to make it easier for the state’s “alfresco summer” to go ahead.
The approach follows in the footsteps of cities like New York and London.
Blakely said hospitality venues in Melbourne should be planning with 95 per cent confidence for alfresco activities from October 19, which is when the state will move to step three of the road map if numbers are good enough.
“We won’t be back doing big concerts with moshpits and the jammed pub scene won’t be back by Christmas — it’s probably not going to be the case until we get a vaccine,” he said.
“But there is a hell of a lot that is going to be fantastic.”
Not to be outdone, NSW has released a plan to regenerate Sydney’s 24-hour economy.
This includes reducing red tape for live performances and outdoor dining, expanding night-time activities in public spaces and extending opening hours for cultural institutions and retail.
A plan will also be developed to make it easier to travel between hubs where 24-hour trading will be encouraged.
Borders are starting to open around Australia and things are looking promising for travel to be allowed around the country, and possibly even New Zealand and some other countries.
Many states still require 14 days quarantine for those coming from NSW and Victoria but Blakely believes we are not far off from state borders being open.
“Assuming nothing changes terribly, we should hit that by late November/December in time for Christmas,” he said.
“Unfortunately there will be some people who book holidays and then later find they live in a hotspot area and then have to cancel the travel,” he said.
“But Christmas and New Year plans can proceed with 80 per cent surety.”
Overseas travel could also be possible, with reports Australians may able to travel to New Zealand without quarantine by January or February.
Summer wedding – had me a blast
This could actually be the best time to host a wedding as restrictions gradually ease and good weather makes it easier to host outdoor events.
In places like Western Australia, weddings are only limited by the 2sq m rule and NSW recently announced 20 people would be allowed on the dancefloor with up to 150 guests in total.
In Melbourne, Bennett believes outdoor events will start to be held.
Up to 10 people can attend a wedding but up to 50 will be allowed once the city reaches the last step of its road map, although no date has yet been set. Once it reaches Covid-normal there will be no limits on the numbers allowed.