The ACT moved along with Victoria to lift restrictions on arrivals from all Sydney local government areas, except Cumberland.
Cumberland Mayor Steve Cristou was critical of the restrictions remaining on his residents in an interview with Melbourne radio station 3AW on Friday afternoon.
The local government area has not had a new COVID-19 case for nine days.
“It’s something out of Yes, Minister or Utopia,” he said, remarking of the Berala cluster: “More than half of those don’t live here, they just passed through.”
The changes come after Tasmania and the Northern Territory reopened to most of the city’s local government areas earlier this month, leaving a handful of western Sydney regions on their hotspot lists.
South Australia and Queensland have kept their bans on arrivals from Greater Sydney in place, with Queensland flagging earlier this week that their rules will be reviewed on January 28.
The sunshine state requires a region to record 28 days without a mystery coronavirus case – a case without a known source – to reopen its borders. There have been six such cases recorded in Sydney since the start of January.
National cabinet on Friday ruled out lifting international passenger arrival caps until February 15 and will plan on expanding quarantine capacity and to prioritise returning Australians.
Caps were halved across the country earlier this month in response to cases of the highly transmissible B117 coronavirus variant believed to have been caught within a Brisbane quarantine hotel.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison left open the prospect of individual states lifting their respective caps, in agreement with the federal government, but insisted that was unlikely despite no community transmission of the virus for five days.
He said the nation’s leaders were eager to get as many Australians home as soon as possible but their priority was ensuring the safety of people here already.
“There is the opportunity for me to engage with individual states and territories on a bilateral basis if we can create additional capacity,” he said.
“But that is not an indication that [it] will occur. But we are seeking to have a flexible arrangement with states and territories between now and the 15th of February.”
Queensland authorities have been given the nod to prepare a proposal to quarantine returning Australians in regional areas, after Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk pitched the idea to the Prime Minister.
She said this option did not necessarily mean Queensland would accept fewer returned travellers.
Mr Morrison said almost 79,000 Australians had returned home since the middle of September and almost $20 million in loans from a national hardship fund had been allocated to help pay for their flights home.
From Friday, overseas arrivals are required to return a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours of their departure for Australia as well as wear a mask on their flight.
After stopping services earlier this month, Emirates announced it will resume flights to Australia after working out how to meet tougher testing and quarantine requirements for foreign air crews, giving hope to thousands of citizens still stranded in Europe nearly a year after the Morrison government closed borders.
Coronavirus testing rates in NSW were low on Friday, after Premier Gladys Berejiklian flagged high rates would be needed to ensure restrictions can be eased to “pre-Avalon” levels next week.
Although 17,431 tests were reported in the 24 hours to 8pm on Thursday, 6000 of these were tests that were done but not included in the previous day’s numbers due to an IT error.
“Testing rates just aren’t high enough now and we really need everyone’s help to come for testing with even the mildest symptoms,” NSW Health’s Dr Jeremy McAnulty said.
NSW Health has been aiming for daily testing rates of 25,000 to 30,000.
The exclusion of two previous cases on the northern beaches led to the NSW total being revised downwards to 4894, after one new case in hotel quarantine was detected.
with Lydia Lynch, Rachael Dexter and Bevan Shields
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Mary Ward is a health reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra