'Scariest part ahead': Bleak frontline warning as NSW opens up

There has been a bleak warning as NSW re-opens from lockdown with paramedics on the frontline preparing for the worst.

Residents of Greater Sydney woke on Monday morning to bars, non-essential retail and gyms re-opening for the first time in 15 weeks after NSW hit its 70 per cent target last week.

But 25-year-old Alex (not her real name), a paramedic in one of Sydney’s biggest Covid-19 hotspots, said lifting lockdown brings her "massive" anxiety.

"This is the scariest part of the pandemic so far," she told AAP.

"Everyone's so f***ing terrified, all of us in the southwest.

"Look at London – hundreds of people are dying a week and they're just going about it like there's no problem. I don't think Australia is ready for that.

"It feels like all the things that need to be in place aren't and now it's like 'Oh well, we'll see how it goes'."

A supplied image of ICU Registered Nurse Shaunagh Whelan (right) caring for a COVID-19 positive patient in the ICU of St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney.
A Covid patient is cared for in the ICU of St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. Source: AAP

Since beginning the job in September, it's been more common for her to watch someone die of Covid than to go a shift without interacting with a case.

"My first ever job was a Covid job and if you get a day without Covid, it's incredible. I've had one," she said.

"I even went to a job where a guy had been in an accident - it was a trauma job - and people came out to help him and they weren't wearing masks.

"We found out an hour after we got him to the ED that he was Covid positive.

'The pandemic isn't over for me'

"No one's stopping any paramedic or nurse or doctor from going out now but the risk is much higher when you're dealing with sick patients and the potential of giving it to them or giving it to your family,” she said.

"I can't afford to go out and go to the pub with all my friends because the pandemic isn't over for me, even if NSW is ready to declare it over."

Registered Nurse Niamh Costello demonstrates a Covid-19 Rapid Antigen Test at a drive-through testing facility set up by Blooms the Chemist at the Royal Randwick shopping centre car park, in Sydney.
A nurse demonstrates a Covid-19 Rapid Antigen Test at a drive-through testing facility set up by Blooms the Chemist at the Royal Randwick shopping centre car park. Source: AAP

Business angst in facing the unvaxxed

There is also angst among business owners and staff about turning away unvaccinated customers. Only fully vaccinated patrons can enjoy non-essential retail and the other freedoms detailed in the 70 per cent roadmap.

Alexi Boyd, CEO of Council of Small Business Australia, told Nine’s Today Show on Monday she expects some teething problems.

“I think everyone is pretty enthusiastic about getting back to their small businesses and getting back to shopping and definitely as time passes people might begin to get frustrated,” she told the program.

“I guess what we are asking people to do is be patient, be kind, be considerate of that small business owner and people working for them.”

An employees of CrossFit RJ gym cleans and prepares a day before reopening due to the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Sydney.
A staff member at CrossFit RJ gym cleans and prepares for re-opening on Monday. Source: Getty Images

Ms Boyd’s comments were echoed by NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet.

Mr Perrottet acknowledged problems are inevitable, but urged the state's residents to show patience, kindness and respect.

"We're the first state in the country that's put these plans in place," he told AAP.

"There will be challenges and difficulties as we go through this ... but we certainly don't want to be having police moving through cafes and restaurants.

"That's just not the state that I love and know."

He rejected concerns business owners have been left out on a limb when it comes to dealing with angry people denied service.

Clear guidelines have been issued to them in terms of training staff and in terms of signage, he said.

Workers prepare food at Japanese restaurant Nobu at Crown Sydney.
A chef prepares Japanese food at Nobu at Crown Sydney. Source: AAP

'I definitely feel at risk': Sydney bartender

Sydney bartender Lucy is one of those anxious about being on the frontline when stay-at-home orders cease and people flood the pubs.

The venue where the 34-year-old works will not be hiring a security guard to cut costs after months without trading, so other staff will be responsible for checking patrons' vaccination status and making sure they follow safety measures.

"A lot of people are angry about having to get vaccinated and I worry they will try to make a point at the door," Lucy told AAP.

She's keen return to work having been stood down during each of the state's lockdowns, but also feels exposed as the Delta variant continues to circulate throughout the city.

"I definitely feel at risk," she said.

"I worry a lot of the pubs will be environments where the virus can spread pretty easily."

Workers setup tables for outdoor dining at Sambandha Nepalese restaurant at Auburn in Sydney.
Staff at Sambandha Nepalese restaurant in Auburn prepare for diners on Monday. Source: AAP

NSW learns to 'live with the virus'

Professor Jaya Dantas of Curtin University's School of Population Health said the relaxation of restrictions heralded the beginning of Australia learning to "live with the virus".

"I think it is a very good move that we are opening up and the country will be watching how things pan out," Prof Dantas told AAP.

"The outbreak has moved from an epidemic to a pandemic and in some ways it is going to be endemic for years to come.

"We have to learn how to manage it and I really believe we can."

Professor Dantas said high vaccination rates and public health measures were important to keep the spread under control but Australia was behind when it came to rapid antigen testing, which would be crucial to identifying cases moving forward.

"We need complete approval of rapid antigen testing across Australia and they need to be available in pharmacies for free or at a low cost," she said.

On its final day of lockdown on Sunday, the state reported 477 new local Covid-19 cases and six deaths.

None of those who died - all men - were fully vaccinated.

There are 794 Covid-19 patients in NSW hospitals, with 159 in intensive care units and 76 on ventilators.

with AAP

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