Melbourne, Australia's second-biggest city, will exit its coronavirus lockdown after nearly four months under onerous restrictions, authorities announced Monday, with no new daily cases or deaths recorded.
Lockdown orders for Melbourne's residents will be lifted from midnight Tuesday into Wednesday while restaurants, beauty salons and retail stores will be permitted to throw open their doors to customers.
Home to 5 million people, Australia's second-biggest city has been in lockdown since early July after a spike of Covid-19 infections that began in hotels where people were in quarantine after arriving from abroad.
The city and the surrounding Victoria state, recorded its first 24-hour period without any new Covid-19 cases since the infections rose after security bungles at some quarantine hotels sparked a major outbreak.
Announcing the much-anticipated relaxing of restrictions, Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews 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 told reporters in Melbourne.
"Now is the time to open up," added Andrews. "We've been able to bring this under control, a day of zero cases is an amazing achievement."
'Donut Day' marks zero new cases
Social media users declared the return to zero new cases "Donut Day", with the hashtag trending as some Twitter users posted selfies with the treats in celebration.
Melbourne became the epicentre of the country's second wave, with new daily cases rising above 700 in August when the rest of Australia was already rolling back virus restrictions.
Some restrictions had 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.
Andrews said all the tests had returned negative results.
"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 has been mounting for weeks on state authorities to allow the city more freedoms, with a litany of rules remaining in place as they took a cautious approach to reopening despite the falling number of cases.
The rest of Victoria state is already enjoying fewer restrictions, with gyms set to reopen and outdoor live music to resume from Tuesday.
Restrictions on travel between Melbourne and regional Victoria will be lifted from November 8, with a 25-kilometre (15-mile) travel radius for city residents also set to be removed the same day.
The state remains cut off from the rest of Australia, which also maintains strict controls on international borders to prevent transmission of the virus from overseas.
Australia has been relatively successful in containing the spread of the coronavirus, with about 27,500 cases and 905 deaths in a population of 25 million.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)