Displaced Victorians stuck in limbo on the NSW side of the border say they are desperate to return home.
Since August 5, just 289 of 6743 exemption applications have been granted to cross Victoria’s hard border, implemented to stop the spread of Covid-19 from NSW.
Robert and Deirdre Pike are among those waiting anxiously to hear if their requests will be approved.
The Victorian Government on July 20 paused travel to Victoria from NSW using the red zone permit system, requiring people to instead apply for an exemption that would only be granted in “exceptional circumstances”.
Ten days earlier, Victoria’s Covid-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar had urged Victorians in regional NSW to return home immediately, saying the border was “on a razor’s edge”.
But Mr and Mrs Pike were in northern NSW at the time caring for Mr Pike’s elderly aunt as she struggled to recover from multiple surgeries.
They applied for an exemption to return home on July 28 and are yet to hear if it will be approved, despite sending the Victorian health department multiple emails with evidence of their stay in Iluka and of their own health conditions.
When they heard NSW was going into a statewide lockdown, the couple drove to Tocumwal near the Victorian border where they have spent the past week in a motel room.
“We’re both anxious. Because we’ve got anxiety. It’s just affecting us. It’s just hard not knowing. We understand that they’re flat out and doing their best,” Mr Pike said.
“We know they have thousands of people applying for the border pass. We keep on telling them the whole time, we have never been in a hotspot in the whole pandemic.”
Mr Pike says he is very concerned for his wife’s mental health and wants to get home to Warburton in regional Victoria, where they care for other family members.
Mrs Pike said she was finding the uncertainty “very tough”.
“We are desperate. We’ve done everything right and we can’t get help from anyone. All we want is to get in our car, drive three hours home, get home and stay home and quarantine,” she said.
Paula Schreuder and her partner Craig, who asked not to have his last name used, spent almost a fortnight in the same motel, fearing they would have to stay there indefinitely if they couldn’t get home to Ballarat.
The couple had their exemption permit approved on Thursday, three days after NCA NewsWire contacted the Victorian government.
“You’d think I’d be happy to be home. But I think it will take a while to recover from this ordeal. We can’t believe this is happening in Australia,” Ms Schreuder said.
They spent 11 days hearing nothing from Victorian health officials, while receiving automated text messages and emails with information that did not apply to their situation.