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There was so much excitement and demand for the haircuts on Monday that Moustafa Elrifai opened his salon in Lakemba an hour earlier.

“When I opened my eyes today I was crying, I swear to God. I hadn’t opened the store in months, had to pay my bills and everything. It was hard.

“But today I’m very happy, the reopening is very good,” he said, bouncing on the spot.

Elrifai said he had been sick with Covid for a month. He said staying home had stressed him out, but now was the perfect time to open up.

“I’m not nervous about being infected again, I’m sure everyone will be vaccinated and I’ll check everyone’s certificate. If they don’t have it, they can’t come in, ”he said.

‘Sounds unreal’: exhilaration and worry as Sydney businesses reopen after New South Wales lockdown |  Sydney
Hairdresser Moustafa Elrifai cuts a client’s hair in his Lakemba salon on Monday morning as greater Sydney reopens to those who have been fully vaccinated. Photograph: Carly Earl / The Guardian

After more than 100 days of lockdown, part of that time spent under the city’s tightest restrictions, residents of Sydney’s southwest suburbs were particularly relieved as restrictions eased on Monday.

But a sense of nervousness and caution reigned in the suburb, which is in the Canterbury-Bankstown local government area – one of the hardest hit during the Delta outbreak and one of 12 areas of concern of local government.

Jaylen Gul, who works at Urban Culture Lakemba, a popular fashion retailer, said the community was nervous as they were always “scarred” by their experiences of foreclosure.

“A lot of news also scares people. I have a lot of friends who got the virus, and they knew people who got it, and I think that’s why people are scared.

“I felt like it had been so long, I wasn’t sure what to do, I’m still confused about the rules, they seem to change every day.

“I’m also nervous about going back into lockdown, we’re all on our guard.”

‘Sounds unreal’: exhilaration and worry as Sydney businesses reopen after New South Wales lockdown |  Sydney
Jaylan Gul from Urban Culture Lakemba: “I still don’t understand the rules, they seem to change every day. “ Photograph: Carly Earl / The Guardian

It comes as New South Wales recorded 496 new locally acquired Covid cases and eight deaths on Monday. The death toll from the Delta outbreak in New South Wales now stands at 439, many of whom come from western and southwestern Sydney.

New prime minister Dominic Perrottet has warned that the number of cases and hospitalizations will continue to rise, but it is important for the mental health of people that businesses reopen.

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“There will be challenges that will present themselves to us. But we have to open up. And we have to get people back to work, ”he said.

Sandy Kourouche, who worked at the Big Sahara Cafe, warned she would deny people entry if they were not vaccinated, but said she was worried about how people would react.

“We have already had some problems with this and with the implementation of the restrictions. I had to tell some of my clients that they couldn’t sit together, I have to keep telling them “we could be fined”.

“It’s hard to have to tell people what to do here. And we’re nervous about the police coming and fining us, but we’re doing our best to avoid these things.

‘Sounds unreal’: exhilaration and worry as Sydney businesses reopen after New South Wales lockdown |  Sydney
Sandy Kourouche, who owns and operates the Big Sahara Cafe in Western Sydney. Photograph: Carly Earl / The Guardian

The cafe filled up as Kourouche spoke, men rolling cigarettes in their hands and watching the morning news, leaning in their seats as if they had never left.

“It’s like a feast,” Kourouche said, frothing the milk, “because it’s been so long. For more than 100 days we have been confined, it is hard for us and our children.

Across town, The Strand Arcade in Sydney’s CBD was bustling for the first time in months.

Tony Kwok, who has run the Quali-tea store in the arcade for 14 years, said the past two years have been filled with uncertainties.

“But this last lockdown was the most difficult. We couldn’t open the store. It was so difficult. So today we are delighted we are able to open again. It seems unreal.

Kwok says it will take “a long time to recover” from the shock of the NSW lockdown. “People are still afraid to approach each other. “

“We are fortunate to have a solid and regular base of clients that we have known for over 10 years.

Although business has been tough, he says, the reopening after the lockdown reveals “the beauty of being human” and “being able to connect with people again.”

“And tea is at the center of that.”

‘Sounds unreal’: exhilaration and worry as Sydney businesses reopen after New South Wales lockdown |  Sydney
Pierre Germani of Pierre Jewelery in the Sydney CBD. Photograph: Carly Earl / The Guardian

For Pierre Germani of Pierre Jewelery, managing the Covid has been a struggle. The past two years have been “very depressing,” he says.

“At the start of this confinement, we thought it would pass in a few weeks. “

After a few months of unprecedented lockdown, Germani said Monday’s overwhelming sentiment was very positive. “It’s like we’re re-born again.”

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