Covid: World's longest lockdown ends as Melbourne lifts restrictions after 262 days total

Watch ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner's report on the world's longest Covid lockdown

The longest Covid-19 lockdown has finally ended after one of Australia's largest cities emerged from almost nine gruelling months in and out of restrictions.

Melbourne is celebrating "freedom day" after enduring 262 days overall in various lockdowns as the city struggled to drive back coronavirus outbreaks.

Scenes of cheering and crowds flocking to bars beamed in from the world's most locked-down city, as the latest 11-week run finally lifted at 11.59pm Thursday.

Residents embraced the return of relative freedoms - largely for the fully vaccinated - after months battling to control the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant.

The city, in the state of Victoria, met its 70% fully-vaccinated target week, enabling restrictions to be gradually eased.

Melburnians will be able to invite people into their homes, gather outdoors in larger groups, enjoy dine-in hospitality, and they will no longer live under curfews.

Victoria's Premier Dan Andrews tweeted: "As my kids say - there's a big vibe today. You can feel the optimism. You can sense the pride in what's been achieved."And after everything it's taken to get here, we absolutely deserve to feel that way."

The return to some freedoms enjoyed before the pandemic will depend on vaccination status.

The state premier has warned unvaccinated people they are unlikely to expect to be able to enter many venues before 2022, as he urged those resistant to get jabbed.

Under the fresh rules, only the fully vaccinated will be able to get haircuts, for instance, or dine indoors at pubs or restaurants - which will have limits on numbers.

Schools will slowly reopen to pupils and workplaces will begin a phased return.

Melbourne is set to aim for an 80% fully vaccinated target before restrictions ease further, with masks mandatory inside workplaces, for example, until the goal is met.

People shop outdoors at a Kmart store in central Melbourne as restrictions ease and shops reopen.

The city's controls have been strained by with waves of anti-vaccine protests.

Melburnians have been warned restrictions on travel will also remain until vaccine take-up increases.

No movement will be permitted between Melbourne and regional Victoria until targets are met.

However a 15km restriction on individuals' travel within the city ends with this week's lockdown easing.

Strict border controls and quarantine rules remain in place for the country's borders, restricting entry to returning Australians and international travellers.

Travel between states is also restricted, but some states are gradually lifting measures following a rapid vaccine uptake.

New South Wales has ended home isolation and quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers arriving in Sydney, and Victoria confirmed this week it is set to follow suit from November 1.

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It is the same date Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's government has said it will lift the ban on outbound travel from the country.

In recent weeks he had said Australians, skilled migrants and students would be given priority over foreign travellers, who he initially said would more likely be permitted in 2022 or later. 

But the leader has this week predicted Australia could welcome tourism back this year.

“That is very possible and very achievable before the end of the year,” Mr Morrison said.