• AFP-JIJI

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Hundreds of Sydney residents rushed into the waves at the city’s famous Bondi Beach on Tuesday as Australia took the first steps in easing coronavirus restrictions.

Dozens of eager surfers jumped railings and hit the water even before the beach officially opened at 7:00 am, five weeks after police sealed the area off because of large crowds ignoring social distancing orders.

More restrained swimmers and boarders lined up patiently and cheered as council workers moved fences aside to allow them through.

Although there were large numbers in the sea, the sand remained largely empty as people are still barred from sunbathing or gathering on the shore.

“Surf and go” signs urged people to move on when they had finished in the water.

The reopening of Bondi and a couple of neighboring beaches came as several of Australia’s states began slowly easing restrictions on public gatherings, spurred by a slowing of confirmed coronavirus cases around the country.

New South Wales signaled on Tuesday that it would follow other moves in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory in easing social distancing measures by allowing two visitors into people’s homes in the state.

“Please, please do that responsibility, we trust everybody to do it responsibly; don’t take risks,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said about the easing, which comes into effect on Friday.

“We don’t want to see the numbers suddenly spike up.”

She also cautioned that increased activity, including the reopening of schools and some shops, would cause infections to rise, but the health system was ready to cope.

Despite the early fence-hoppers, most people at Bondi Beach appeared to be embracing the added freedoms while sticking to distancing guidelines.

“I’ve been excited for like a week, I was like, 7:30 right here, definitely super exciting,” Diane Delaurens said, still dripping from the surf.

John Minto, standing with a board under his arm next to his son, said it was great to be back in the water.

“The surf’s not great but, hey, no one’s complaining today,” Minto said.

Western Australia now allows gatherings of up to 10 people while Queenslanders will be given slightly more freedom to travel in the state from Saturday as the country eyes a way out of virus shutdowns.

Australia has confirmed some 6,700 cases of COVID-19, with 84 deaths for a population of about 25 million. There have been fewer than 20 new cases of the disease per day over the past week.

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