By Graeme Kemlo

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews late Monday announced that all retail, restaurants, hotels, cafes and bars would open from 11.59pm tonight (Tuesday) and staff could return immediately to work to prepare a COVID-safe environment.

From midnight on November 8 he announced that the current 25 km travel limit and the ring of steel separating metropolitan Melbourne from regional areas would disappear and “reunite the State.”

Andrews became emotional as he praised Victorians, but he warned COVID  would continue to be “…a feature of our lives every day until a vaccine turns up… until a vaccine comes there is no normal, there is only COVID-normal.”

Limits to indoor and outdoor gatherings would remain and he said he would announce further details of in-home gatherings on Tuesday.

He praised Victorians for “staying the course” and refusing to give in to frustration, or listening to the loudest voice.

Not Happy Dan! – zero new cases, zero deaths

Prior to this update, premier Andrews was under siege following his weekend decision for a “cautious pause” rather than re-opening for Melbourne.

Hot on the heels of criticism from the business events sector and the regions last week, yesterday it was retailers, local government and his former health minister.

Melbourne Lord Mayor, Sally Capp criticised “a lack of clarity” saying business needed confidence “which is so fragile at the moment”. Cr Capp called on the Premier to “trust us” to re-open with all the necessary COVID safe protocols in place.

Dominique Lamb of the National Retailers Association said Victorians spent the highest amount on Christmas compared to the other states and her sector needed to re-open to capture the busiest sales period of the year from mid-November. They needed details.

And Jenny Mikakos, the former health minister accused the premier of “paralysis in decision making” over the pause, saying he could not keep Melbourne locked down forever.

Monday marked the return of all Victorian school children to the classroom while the first flights to Tasmania flew over the top of Melbourne to Hobart from everywhere except New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria.

The premier’s target was that the 14-day rolling average of new cases needed to get below 5.0, and when more than 2000 tests of those northern suburbs’ residents returned negative results after a weekend of testing, that took the average into the freedom zone. It stood at 3.6 in Melbourne and 0.2 in the regions as of Monday. Vox pop interviewees on radio and television cried out for a break from a 111-day lockdown.  Another measure of success was the number of mystery cases and on Monday, it was just 7.

Having met the target and anticipated some reward, the pause created only more frustration as Melburnians asked why five million residents had to continue in lockdown because of 39 infections in 11 households in a northern suburb identified by contact tracing.

The double zero results were announced at 9am and then five million Victorians, wearers of surgical masks, keepers of social distance, deprived not only of their football, but a grand final and now a spring racing carnival held their collective breath and waited for Daniel Andrews to appear at his regular press conference.