WITH just one exam of his Higher School Certificate to go, Newcastle student Rory Garland is looking forward to his end of year formal.
"It's a big part of graduating high school, the last time everyone will see everyone," the St Philip's Christian College Newcastle student said.
"It means a lot."
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Mr Garland,18, was trying on his suit at city trader Rundle Tailoring on Thursday shortly after NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard granted an exemption to allow all HSC students to attend their school's Year 12 formal graduation event, regardless of their vaccination status.
If attending a venue, students must abide by the public health requirements.
"The HSC students of 2021 have had an incredibly tough 18 months, including substantial time without face-to-face teaching, and missing out on seeing friends and family," Mr Hazzard said.
"They deserve to be able to party with their friends and enjoy one of the biggest celebrations of their life."
St Philip's Christian College principal Pam O'Dea agrees - despite the inconvenience to her school due to the rescheduling of the event.
The college had booked its formal to take place at NEX when the NSW government announced that restrictions for the unvaccinated would not ease until December 15.
"NEX rang us to say only vaccinated people could go to our event, which made it hard because we wanted all students to go, so we made a decision to hire a marquee and have it at a big expense at our school site and make it wonderful so all students could come, as well as vaccinated parents," she said.
Business Hunter CEO Bob Hawes said it appeared the NSW government had "tried to be inclusive for students" who had experienced a challenging HSC experience unlike any other cohort.
"We're really happy that these young adults can join in the celebrations with their peers regardless of vaccination," Mr Hawes said.
Noting the exemption for unvaccinated students was for formal events only, he said businesses were not in a position to change the terms of entry for their business for non-essential services.
"It's a short-term tricky spot for businesses and service providers, but ultimately, these potential patrons would not have been patrons either if the exemption to the public health orders had not been granted," he said.
Rundle Tailoring co-owner Bronwyn Rundle said her Hunter Street store was bustling with demand from Year 10 and 12 students seeking formal wear to buy or for hire.
"After such a tough year or so, when they've not had face-to-face contact with fellow students, it's a real time for celebration for them and it's great to be a part of it," she said.
Under tweaks to the December road map announced by the NSW Premier on Thursday for when NSW reaches a 95 per cent full vaccination rate for people aged 16 and up or on December 15, whichever comes first, businesses can still require proof at their own discretion.
Ms Rundle said the tailor would abide by the public health orders and, in the case of assisting an unvaccinated student, could offer virtual suit and dress fittings that it had successfully piloted during lockdown.
Taya Calder-Mason, owner of Hamilton dress hire business Goldies, said her appointment-only shop had been "hammered' by students since the latest easing of COVID-19 restrictions and was booked out a week ahead.
She said students who were not vaccinated were able to hire an item and collect it to try on at home, but they were unable to enter her store to try on items.
"I'll be interested to see since this [formals] exemption has been announced what that does over the next two weeks," she said.
Mr Garland said it had been stressful when his formal had been "up in the air" and he was relieved to be able to celebrate.
"I am grateful that it's still on and not cancelled which would have happened due to the 'unvaccinated and vaccinated' conflict," he said.
"I am appreciative that it's on now after a very challenging two years with COVID, regardless of the location."
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