Victorians in NSW border area allowed home as part of home-quarantine trial as regional restrictions ease
After being stuck in Albury for nearly four weeks, Maureen and John are elated to be finally heading home to Melbourne.
The couple is among those Victorians stranded just over the New South Wales border who have been trying to get home, and now they've been granted an exemption.
Thousands of others, some just over the border and some in other parts of NSW, have been trying to get back to Victoria since the state government introduced very strict border restrictions in late July.
From Friday, the government will allow Victorians who have been in NSW communities considered part of the border area between August 25 and September 8 to apply for a new permit to return home.
The couple, who don't want to use their last name, say they had travelled to NSW to celebrate a milestone birthday and spend time with family.
But then they got caught up in the tough border closures brought in due to the exploding numbers of COVID-19 cases in NSW.
Maureen said the uncertainty had been very stressful.
"We tried four times [to get an exemption]," she said.
"We are excited [to be going back]. But, I think, emotionally and mentally, it has left us drained."
Border communities 'low risk'
This follows the easing of restrictions across regional Victoria, excluding Greater Shepparton, from Friday morning.
Health Minister Martin Foley said the people in border communities were considered "low risk".
He said applications to return home would open on Friday for a week and he expected at least 200 people would be covered in the initial trial.
Those applying will need evidence that they reside in Victoria, a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours of their intended arrival time, evidence of at least one dose of a vaccine as well as documentation showing they have minimised social contacts and stayed in the border area.
Those who obtain the permit will be allowed to return to their home in Victoria and quarantine there for a fortnight.
Home remains distant for others
While some will now be eligible to come back, others are still stuck in limbo, waiting for that elusive permit to return home.
Mr Foley said other trials to enable people in the ACT and other parts of NSW to return home were being worked on, including some which would be "technologically supported".
"Other Victorians who aren't in that border bubble and haven't been there for 14 days, we urge you not to rush to the border bubble because you won't be eligible in this first iteration of the program," he said.
Earlier this week, Marianne Allan told the ABC, she could not get a permit to return from Tweed Heads to her home in Castlemaine for urgent medical treatment.
Ms Allan, who is fully vaccinated, has advanced pancreatic cancer and needs to be back by September 20 for her appointment.
Sandra Kerr, 58, and her husband, an Afghanistan war veteran in his early 60s, are also in northern NSW, in Kingscliff.
The area has not any positive cases of COVID-19 during the latest outbreak.
Ms Kerr said their application to return was knocked back again on Tuesday evening.
The Melbourne couple were visiting family in the area while waiting for their second doses of the vaccine, which they had since received.
Ms Kerr said her husband had been diagnosed with and treated for PTSD, but the the news of the Taliban takeover on top of his inability to return home to his "safe place", had triggered him again.
On Tuesday, Mr Andrews said Victoria would run a "technology-based pilot" to enable people to come home.
South Australia has already begun a home quarantine pilot that involves the use of geolocation and facial recognition software.
Under that system, people will be contacted at random and required to provide proof of their location within 15 minutes.