Cyclist wearing mask on tram tracks
(Image: AAP/Daniel Pockett)

It’s a tale of two cities, COVID-style.

There’s miserable Melbourne: locked down, streets deserted and those anxious residents who do venture out now wearing masks.

Meanwhile in Sydney, well, party on. Restaurants and bars are heaving as its population behaves like the last days of Rome.

Before the second wave wiped out Melbourne, a number of Sydney restaurants were surprised they were doing better business than the same time the previous year.

Some are still privately admitting the phenomenon continues.

How that works with numbers so restricted is a mystery, but it seems that having multiple sittings limited to a few hours often with set menus and a cancellation fee is proving a profitable new model for some.

Initially it could be put down to the pent-up demand of diners desperate to eat out again, but now it seems more like making the most of it before it all comes to an end again.

For those Sydneysiders who can still afford it, they’re acting like there is no tomorrow. They’ve seen Melbourne.

“We are so going into lockdown,” is the most common phrase you hear these days.

The government has moved to try and rein in some of the excess after being confronted with shocking pictures of dozens of young people crowded outside The Golden Sheaf Hotel in upmarket Double Bay recently.

The top end of town is certainly helping to make up for the lack of foreign tourists who usually dominate the three hat restaurants like Quay which is still doing strong trade with its eight-course degustation menu at $290 without wine.

Yet even those not eating and drinking for Australia are also in some form of denial north of the Victorian border. 

The crowds flocking to shopping centres and supermarkets continue to ignore the increasingly ominous warnings from the government.

And nary a mask to be seen as they watched smugly Mask Wars, Melbourne edition.

Over the weekend, Woolies in NSW urged customers to start wearing masks, but the impact remains to be seen while the NSW infection rates remain low.

Nor is the relaxed attitude confined to the capital city. 

With many state borders still closed, NSW regional towns are also booked solid as the masses flee Sydney for some kind of mini-break resembling a real holiday.

From Bowral to Orange, businesses are reporting visitor numbers during the week that would normally reflect a solid weekend’s figures.

Despite all this, the COVID-19 case numbers in Sydney have incredibly remained consistent and under 20 people each day, while shuttered Melbourne continues to record numbers up to and over 400 infections a day, despite the severe lockdown.

Go figure.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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