MELBOURNE • Australia's second-biggest city will this week exit its coronavirus lockdown following nearly four months under onerous restrictions, after no new daily cases or deaths were recorded.
Stay-at-home orders for Melbourne's five million residents will be lifted from midnight today, while restaurants, beauty salons and retail stores will be permitted to throw open their doors.
Melbourne and the rest of Victoria state recorded the first 24-hour period without any new Covid-19 cases since June 8 - before security bungles at quarantine hotels for returned international travellers sparked a major outbreak in July.
Announcing the much-anticipated easing of restrictions yesterday, Victoria's Premier Daniel Andrews' voice cracked as he declared it an "emotional day".
"This has been a very difficult year. And Victorians have given a lot and I'm proud of every single one of them," he said in the state capital. Asked if ale-loving Victorians could now "get on the beers", Mr Andrews said he "might go a little higher up the shelf".
Jubilant social media users declared the return to zero cases and deaths "Donut Day", with the hashtag trending as Twitter users posted selfies with the sweet treats.
In the summer, Melbourne became the epicentre of the country's second coronavirus wave, with new daily cases rising above 700 in August, when the rest of Australia was already rolling back restrictions.
Some curbs were already lifted last week, allowing haircuts and golf games to return, but further easing planned for Sunday was delayed by 24 hours to assess thousands of test results after a small outbreak in the city's north.
Mr Andrews said all the tests had returned negative. "It was worth waiting to be absolutely confident to be sure that our team had their arms around those positive cases and fundamental control of the outbreak - and that is exactly what these numbers show us," he said.
Pressure had been mounting for weeks on officials to allow the city more freedoms, with a litany of rules remaining as they took a cautious approach to reopening despite the falling number of cases.
The rest of Victoria state is already enjoying fewer curbs, with gyms set to reopen and outdoor live music to resume from today.
Restrictions on travel between Melbourne and regional Victoria will be lifted from Nov 8, with a 25km travel radius for city residents also set to be removed the same day. But the state remains cut off from the rest of Australia, where the regional authorities have largely taken a hyper-vigilant response to Covid-19 such as maintaining internal border restrictions.