Qantas boss Alan Joyce has hit out at Victoria’s tough border restrictions with NSW, questioning why professional tennis players can fly into the state for the Australian Open, yet residents still trapped in the neighbouring state are locked out.

Three weeks out from the scheduled February 8 start of the tennis Grand Slam, there has been growing frustration that Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews will not allow residents stranded in NSW “red zones” to enter the state as it was still not safe to permit their return.

Yet under the Australian Open quarantine arrangement, 1240 players, support staff and officials from around the world are allowed in to the state and enter quarantine for 14 days before taking part in the tournament.

Mr Joyce said the Victorian government needs to do more to get Victorians home.

“If we can find a way to let these (tennis) players in … why can’t we find a way to let Victorians in from what are by global standards extremely low risk areas,” My Joyce said.

“Victoria’s approach to Sydney seems to be out of proportion with the actual risk. And that makes it hard to reconcile the decision to allow over 1000 people in from overseas for the Australian Open from countries where the virus is raging.

“To deny people who actually live in the state the right to return with some basic precautions that reflect the extremely low level of community transmission in Sydney, is bizarre at a policy level and devastating at a social level.”

Mr Joyce said state premier’s need to learn how to “walk and chew gum at the same time”, and not fall “victim” to our own success at managing the virus..

“The new wave of border restrictions around the country over Christmas showed we’re almost a victim of our own success at managing this virus,” he said.

“Because we’ve gotten much closer to eradication than expected, it’s made many states scared to open up. That, frankly, is putting a lot of broader social and economic things at risk.”

But there may be some welcome relief for Victorians stranded interstate in the coming days.

Despite growing concerns over cases of the highly transmissible UK “mutant” coronavirus strain doubling within NSW in the past week, Victoria could be on the verge of scaling back red zones within the state sooner rather than later.

Currently, under Victoria’s new permit system which has certain areas of NSW designated as red zones, thousands of Victorians are trapped.

The new traffic light permit system means only residents with a special exemption from Victorian health authorities can return home.

Mr Andrews said on Thursday while he wasn’t in a position to make an announcement on any border changes just yet, he hopes to make an announcement sooner rather than later about reducing the red zones.

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“I understand it’s not easy,” he said on Thursday.

“I just want to assure all Victorians, and particularly those that want to come home but can’t because it’s not safe right now, you will be in this circumstance for not a moment longer than the public health experts tell me you have to be.”

There are fears from Sydneysiders, however, that the state will need to successfully complete 14 days without a locally transmitted case of COVID-19 before the Victoria reopens the border.

While Victoria has not given a definitive answer as to when the borders between the two states would reopen, it is expected a full 14-day cycle of no community transmission will need to pass before lifting restrictions like what happened when NSW closed its border to the Garden State.

NSW closed its border with Victoria on July 8, 2020 when the state recorded consecutive days of COVID-19 cases above 100. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian reopened the border with Victoria on November 23 after the state achieved 14 days of no community transmission.

Victoria Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said the decision on the reopening of the Victorian border to Greater Sydney is a “day-by-day” assessment.

“This is very much going to be a day-by-day situation and assessment about what the numbers are in NSW and where the spread is,” she said earlier this week.

On Friday, Victoria and NSW both recorded no new locally transmitted cases of COVID-19.