The time for celebration and optimism is now

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The surge in vaccination rates in Victoria and New South Wales in recent weeks has paved the way for a genuine recovery in the broader Australian community and offers the brightest signs yet for a strong rebound in economic activity.

Tourism, both local and international, is about to re-start, with the Perrottet government in NSW on Sunday launching a lively marketing campaign to draw visitors back.

For Melburnians, who have endured six lockdowns over the past 19 months, the chance to breathe in the bush air or visit coastal communities is just days away.

From Friday evening, Victoria’s regional areas will finally be open to Melbourne’s city slickers and the number of vaccinated people allowed inside venues will be subjected only to density limits (not absolute numbers). And, here’s joy, the mandate to wear masks outdoors will be lifted.

More restrictions will be lifted, especially for those who have received their jabs, once Victoria passes the 90 per cent double-vaccinated threshold, likely in late November.

All this, though, has become possible only through the push to drive vaccination rates as high as possible. While several states have much catch-up to do, nationwide more than 86 per cent of Australians aged over 16 have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and close to 73 per cent have been fully vaccinated.

In NSW, the rate is higher still: 93 per cent have had their first dose and almost 85 per cent are fully vaccinated.

In Victoria, where access to vaccinations was problematic earlier this year, more than nine-in-10 people over 16 have had their first dose and the Andrews government expects the state will reach the 80 per cent double-dose threshold by Friday.

This is a significant achievement, and there is every reason to celebrate.

Families and friends who have endured separation due to travel restrictions, young people who had to postpone what should be some of their best social years, and businesses that have been in a kind of hibernation – all can now begin to re-open to the world.

And as the dynamic economies of Victoria and NSW kick-start again, there is great optimism for a vibrant summer ahead – for tourism and hospitality, for retailing and small businesses, for everyone to just get out and about.

In Melbourne, the exit from the latest lockdown has been greeted with relief, exuberance and simple cheerfulness. To think, some weeks ago even playgrounds had closed. Now there is the prospect of shops re-opening, nightclubs and music festivals hosting up to 5000 people, and more.

The Andrews government even anticipates a crowd of about 80,000 (or 80 per cent capacity) at the MCG on Boxing Day for the first day of the Third Test against England as Australia defends the Ashes.

Life will still have some restrictions for months to come. That much is evidenced by a survey conducted by The Age published today, which indicates many of the nation’s biggest employers will bar, in at least some of their workplaces, employees and visitors who have not been fully vaccinated.

The companies’ decisions have been influenced by their own health and safety policies and by government mandates – Victoria’s are stringent – requiring many categories of workers, and customers, to be vaccinated.

Australia, so far, has managed to get through the pandemic with far less damage in terms of lives lost than what other countries experienced. It has been hard, even brutal at times. And it has been a ferociously expensive exercise – on government budgets and business activity. It has been particularly hard on the mental health of many people.

There is still some way to go before Australians can fully ease into life as we knew it before March 2020, and we will all continue to need to take care of our own health and safety for as long as coronavirus strains are present.

But in the past 19 months, there has not been any time to feel quite so optimistic about the future that lies ahead of us.

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