Fans permitted at New Zealand's rugby matches from this weekend

Fans will be allowed to fill stadiums when top-flight rugby resumes in New Zealand this weekend, organisers said yesterday, hailing the move as a world first after professional sport's coronavirus shutdown.

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) made the announcement after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared that the country has eliminated Covid-19 transmission and will lift all containment measures except for border curbs.

It means packed stands are expected when New Zealand's five Super Rugby teams open a domestic series, a temporary replacement for the suspended southern hemisphere competition, on Saturday.

"We're incredibly proud, and grateful, to be the first professional sports competition in the world to be in a position to have our teams play in front of their fans again," NZR chief Mark Robinson said.

"It's going to be a very special and unique competition and it's fitting that New Zealanders now have a chance to be part of it."

While many sports competitions around the globe are restarting or in the midst of doing so, most will be played with limited or no crowds.

New Zealand, with a population of five million, has no active Covid-19 cases after its final patient was given the all clear and released from isolation, authorities said yesterday.

While domestic restrictions have been eased, strict border controls remain in place.

Australia, which has also enjoyed success containing the coronavirus, will start a competition between its four Super Rugby franchise teams and the Western Force on July 3.

South Africa is still in lockdown, Argentina's Jaguares face an uncertain future and Japan's Sunwolves have been axed. - AFP