Melbourne welcomes vaccinated Sydney residents without quarantineFILE PHOTO: A lone woman, wearing a protective face mask, walks across a city centre bridge as the state of Victoria looks to curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Melbourne, Australia, July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders/File Photo

SYDNEY— Travel restrictions between Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s largest cities, eased on Wednesday (Oct 20) as Victoria opened its borders to fully vaccinated residents from New South Wales amid a rapid rise in immunisation levels.

With cases trending lower in New South Wales, including Sydney, residents will be allowed quarantine-free entry into Victoria for the first time in more than three months. Travellers from Melbourne who wish to enter Sydney, however, must undergo a two-week home quarantine.

Daily infections in Victoria rose to 1,841 on Wednesday, up from 1,749 a day earlier. A total of 283 cases were reported in New South Wales, well down from the pandemic high in September.

The relaxation in border rules comes ahead of Victoria lifting the lockdown in Melbourne, the state capital, on Friday as double-dose vaccination rates in people above 16 neared 70 per cent. More restrictions will be eased when rates pass 80 and 90 per cent.

By Friday, Melbourne’s 5 million residents would have endured six lockdowns totalling a cumulative 262 days since March 2020. Australian media say this is the longest in the world, exceeding a 234-day lockdown in Buenos Aires.

Australia had enjoyed a COVID-free life most of this year until a Delta outbreak began in Sydney in June, which quickly spread to neighbouring Victoria. Other states are COVID-free or have very few cases.

Sydney and Canberra exited their months-long strict stay-home restrictions last week after racing through their vaccination targets.

Even with the Delta outbreaks, Australia’s COVID-19 numbers are far lower than many developed nations, with about 149,000 cases and 1,577 deaths.