What you can now do in NSW as COVID-19 restrictions have eased

Craving a swim? Hang in there, NSW.
Craving a swim? Hang in there, NSW.

This weekend, for the first time in months, you could go out for a picnic with friends, swim in an outdoor heated pool, push your kids on the swings at your local park, or even enjoy breakfast at your favourite cafe.

But, as COVID-19 restrictions ease slightly and these simple freedoms return, there are a lot of complexities and amped up warnings which need to be considered.

According to the government's latest public health advice, there are eight changes to the Public Health Order coming into effect from Friday:

  • outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people
  • cafes and restaurants can seat 10 patrons
  • up to 5 visitors to a household at any one time
  • weddings up to 10 guests
  • indoor funerals up to 20 mourners, outdoor funerals up to 30
  • religious gatherings/places of worship up to 10 worshippers
  • use of outdoor equipment with caution
  • outdoor pools open with restrictions

These look simple, but how they work in practice is not straightforward.

For instance, while you can have up to 10 people at outdoor gatherings, this does not include backyard get-togethers, according to Premier Gladys Berejiklian who said a backyard does not count as "outdoors".

"You can welcome five people into your home... The important thing with the restrictions is that we have to keep them as simple as possible but also acknowledge that people have very different circumstances, some people have very tiny apartments and some people have larger houses and it's simpler for all of us to have one rule for everybody and that's five people into your home," she said.

However, if you happened to have two families with two adults and three children, or if you have a household of five people and you have five other adult visitors over, it seems you would be within the guidelines to hold a 10-person backyard get together as this would fall under the category of having five visitors in a household.

Staged reopening: Lee and Me - pictured here in March when the first round of shut downs allowed a small number of diners - is one of many cafes and restaurants which could now choose seat patrons again from Friday. Picture: Adam McLean.

Staged reopening: Lee and Me - pictured here in March when the first round of shut downs allowed a small number of diners - is one of many cafes and restaurants which could now choose seat patrons again from Friday. Picture: Adam McLean.

Also confusing is that the previous restriction of two visitors per household did not include dependent children, but now, the five visitor rule does. So a family of two adults and four kids may no longer be able to go visiting, when previously this would have been allowed.

"What we recommend is that, if there's a household with more than three children, they should feel open to welcoming five people into their homes," Ms Berejiklian said, acknowledging the difficulty of applying these rules.

In the public space, councils are facing a dilemma over exactly how they'll maintain physical distancing at pools and playgrounds.

Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery has already warned people not to expect things to be open as the council grapples with these new complexities, and said the city would not hesitate to shut things back down if people could not follow hygiene and distancing rules.

At pools, there can be no more than 10 people in the pool and no more than one person per lane. Change areas will be closed.

A South Coast council has posted on social media that it will "trial" opening playgrounds for now, but says people must wash hands, bring hand sanitiser to use before and after play and limit the amount of people at anyone the playground to 10, including adults and children.

"While using the playground, play safely away from others at a socially safe distance," the advice states. "If the playground is full, search up other close-by playgrounds."

It is unclear how this will be enforced, but NSW Health said police will be enforcing distancing rules.

One church leader admitted the decision to allow 10 worshippers is church is not nevessarily easy to apply.

"We don't think the 10-people services is of any use to us for Sunday services," St Michael's Anglican Church senior minister Sandy Grant said.

"We have five services on a Sunday the smallest is about 60 people, and we just don't see how we can say 'the first ten to arrive can come to church and the rest can't'."

He said he had been telling parishioners to "hasten slowly" as restriction ease, and would be continuing with online services for some time.

"We certainly appreciate that we can have 10 people at a wedding and 20 at a funeral, and we may think about having small invitation or closed services midweek for under 10 people," he said.

"We will need sanitiser stations at each entry, we will need to take people's name and contact details to help contract tracing, and we can't hand out the weekly church bulletin - or prayer book or hymn book."

At cafes and restaurants, the rules are a little clearer - and many venues have some experience in allowing 10 diners in at a time as this was briefly allowed in March during the first stage of the shut down.

Already, many local eateries have announced their intention to serve up to 10 patrons in limited bookings, and will have measures like contactless payment and increased hygiene.

The NSW Government says they must also continue to apply the 4sqm rule, and patrons who are not members of the same household must exercise 1.5m in physical distancing at restaurants.

As these new rules come in, Ms Berejiklian has urged all residents to be "more vigilant" from Friday.

"There will be many more people out and about, and out and about for recreation as opposed to other reasons," she said.

"That is a big shift in the way we are managing the pandemic, a big shift in the way in which people can have that extra bit of freedom."