Thousands of Victorians stranded in Sydney will be able to return to their home state after border restrictions were eased for most parts of Sydney, the Blue Mountains and Wollongong.
Twenty-five out of 35 greater Sydney council areas have been downgraded from “red” to “orange” as of 6pm Monday, Victorian premier Daniel Andrews announced on Monday.
This means people who have been stuck in these areas of New South Wales since the border closed in December will now be able to return to Victoria, so long as they apply for a permit, get tested within 72 hours of returning and isolate until the result comes back negative.
The council areas that remain red zones are: Blacktown, Burwood, Canada Bay, Canterbury-Bankstown, Cumberland, Inner West, Liverpool, Fairfield West, Parramatta and Strathfield.
The Blue Mountains and Wollongong local government areas have also been downgraded to orange.
Victoria’s chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, noted the northern beaches local government area (LGA) was no longer in the red zone due to the Avalon cluster being deemed inactive, and the focus was now on the remaining cases arising from the Berala cluster.
Andrews said the government would continually review the remaining 10 LGAs in the red zone, and they would be downgraded as soon as health advice backed such a decision.
Border communities in NSW have also moved from “orange” to “green”, meaning people can travel into those communities from Victoria without needing to get tested on their return.
The decision followed the easing of border restrictions with Brisbane on the weekend, and relaxation of mask rules on Monday. Victorians no longer need to wear masks in all indoor settings, only in potentially crowded areas such as shopping centres and on public transport.
The announcement came as NSW recorded zero locally-acquired cases and Victoria racked up its 12th consecutive day of no new cases of Covid-19 in the community.
However, the Victorian government is under pressure over four cases in hotel quarantine, associated with the Australian Open, including one tennis player.
Andrews rejected a list of demands from world number one Novak Djokovic over the conditions of players currently in hotel quarantine, ruling out allowing players to isolate in a private home.
Andrews said all tennis players forced into a hard quarantine with no allowance for training were briefed on the rules before they came to Australia.
“That was the condition on which they came. There’s no special treatment here, because the virus doesn’t treat you specially. So neither do we.”
The premier also indicated the system set up and paid for by Tennis Australia would allow Victoria to expand the number of returning travellers allowed back into Melbourne once the Australian Open players and crew have finished quarantining.
“Tennis Australia are essentially paying for a system that will mean a whole bunch of staff are trained and will mean we are able to step up and take more returned travellers, more than we would otherwise take,” Andrews said.
“I have agreements with the prime minister about us doing more – that’s only fair – and we will have more than the numbers we’re getting that are coming back now, all of which are unaffected by the tennis.”
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, responded to criticism that Australia had allowed hundreds of foreign tennis players and officials to enter the country while thousands of citizens remain unable to return.
“No one is being prevented from coming home from overseas because of the Australian Open. That’s not happening,” Morrison told 2GB radio on Monday.
“Their places are not being taken by tennis players, I can tell you that.”
Meanwhile, a Deloitte Access Economics report stated Victoria’s economy was expected to grow faster than any other state in the nation, at 5.3%, after shrinking at twice the rate of the next worst state in 2020.
Victoria police also sought to correct the record for what it said was a poorly-worded document reported by the Age which indicated officers would waive fines for people who had not paid up for breaching Covid-19 restrictions.
A total of 40,000 fines have been issued over the course of the pandemic, with the bulk of those still outstanding.
Victoria police deputy commissioner Rick Nugent told reporters on Monday people would still have to pay their fines.
While NSW reported no new locally-acquired cases of Covid-19, there were eight new cases in hotel quarantine. Queensland reported one new case in hotel quarantine, while the remaining states and territories reported no new cases.
Tasmania downgraded greater Brisbane from high to medium risk, meaning people can travel to Tasmania but must go into quarantine. The Tasmanian premier, Peter Gutwein, indicated Brisbane could go down to low risk by the end of the week. Sydney and Wollongong remain at medium risk.