Sovereign Hill, Ballarat's biggest tourist attraction and arguably most iconic landmark, is shutting its doors indefinitely.
As the COVID-19 impact continues to wreak havoc on the world, the outdoor museum has announced it is closing down its doors.
It is not known how long it will remain closed, but it will close at 5pm tonight (Friday, March 20).
In a statement on Friday morning, chief executive Sarah Quon said staff and visitor safety was a priority.
The decision comes one day after Ballarat's first coronavirus case was confirmed.
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"We must protect staff and visitor safety and ensure we can survive this crisis," she said.
"The resilience of people through hard times is at the heart of Sovereign Hill's goldrush story.
"We will play a critical role in leading the recovery of our region and sector after this crisis."
Sovereign Hill president Damien Butler said it was one of the hardest decision's the board had ever made.
"This has been one of the board's hardest decisions in our history," he said.
"We play a vital economic role in Ballarat and in Victoria. We must survive so we can protect jobs - for the people we employ directly and the Ballarat people and businesses that rely on us."
Sovereign Hill has been one of Ballarat's hardest-hit organisations since the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Initially it had faced significant hardship when travel bans were placed on China.
It was feeling the impact of the COVID-10 pandemic as early as January, facing a sharp downturn in visitors during the normally busy Lunar New Year period.
Now, with Australia's borders due to close on Friday night, tourism numbers are likely to be all but non-existent.
The full Sovereign Hill statement can be read below:
"Along with many public organisations around Australia, the not-for-profit Sovereign Hill Museums Association is temporarily closing its three sites to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Sovereign Hill Outdoor Museum, Gold Museum and Narmbool will be closed to the public as of 5PM Friday, March 20.
All events and programs will be cancelled. This includes all evening experiences, including Aura and Lamplight Tours.
Sovereign Hill has a duty to protect the safety and well-being of our visitors, staff, volunteers and community.
The museum is taking these steps as part of Australia-wide action to contain the coronavirus.
We will be reducing hours for all staff to 80% of their current roster, in a partial shutdown, for two weeks. Our volunteer programs will be paused.
While we are closed, our staff will continue to care for our animals, protect the site, our collection and our unique assets, and prepare our museum to reopen when we are able.
These are unprecedented and challenging times. The situation is changing quickly and we do not have a scheduled date for reopening.
We will continue to monitor the situation and all government advice and will provide regular updates on our website and through our social media channels.
Sovereign Hill is an icon of Australian tourism and a living history museum of international reputation.
We are ready to work with the City of Ballarat and state and local government to support the recovery of the arts, culture and tourism sectors.
We will emerge from this crisis ready to lead the recovery for our regional community and businesses.
We look forward to welcoming visitors back to the extraordinary experience we offer, to again immerse themselves in our shared stories of humanity."
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