At the start of the week, restaurants were invited to open after 111 days. They had less than two days to prepare and worked at breakneck speed round the clock to be ready to safely open their doors – finally.

On the first day of freedom from lockdown, everything was ready.

Greek flags, patriotic music, the smell of cooked meat and masked friends catching up were the order of Greek “OXI” day, in Oakleigh, this lunchtime.

Wednesday, 28 October, also coincided with the end of lockdown for metropolitan Melbourne just as Greece entered 4-digit coronavirus figures. But at Oakleigh, life was good.

The owner of Katialo Greek restaurant, Kelly Vanas, said she was playing Vembo songs and had the Greek flag hanging from the outside of her shop because of the day’s significance.

“It’s to celebrate the OXI for Greece”, she said.

“We do it every year.

“With what’s going on (with COVID-19) it does feel more special this year.”

Sophia Vembo was dubbed the “Songstress of Victory” in Greece during WWII for her patriotic songs during the Greco-Italian war of 1941.

When Neos Kosmos visited Oakleigh’s famous Hellenic precinct at Eaton Mall on Wednesday, 28 October there were patrons socially distancing and wearing masks when they weren’t eating. Shops practiced COVID-19 hygiene as Greek music blared from restaurants.

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The spirit of euphoria prevailed on a sunny Melbourne day as people gleamed with excitement, glad to be out of their homes.

“Are you good?” one man asked his friend as he sat at the table.

“Yes, even standing up over there would have been enough for me.”

The main problem was the staff shortage bearing in mind that a number of employees were visa holders who had to leave the country due to the COVID-19 lockdown where they were left stranded without work or any support from the state.

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