Allan Meers has a green light to apply for a permit to return home to Victoria after lockdowns and border closures left him stranded in northern NSW for 73 days after flying there for a week in July to visit a terminally ill friend.
Last week the government reclassified non-locked down areas in extreme risk zones as 'red zones', meaning Victorians could apply for a travel permit and come home subject to returning a negative COVID test and quarantining at home - but Lismore where he was staying remained an extreme zone for a further week until being reclassified on Thursday.
"Assuming the application goes through I'm hoping to hear early next week and hoping to fly back Thursday," Mr Meers said.
"But of course there has to be aircraft flying from Ballina to get home. There used to be 28 flights a week Ballina/Lismore to Melbourne now there's two per week on Thursday and Sunday but some of those are getting cancelled because of lack of people.
And when he returns he'll have to pay hundreds to retrieve his car from the airport carparking, though the car park operator has agreed to discount his current tally which is more than $1000.
"A whole lot of things have to fall in to place before I can set foot on soil in Ballarat, but when I do I will be kissing the ground," he laughed.
Mr Meers said he was better off than some stranded travellers because he had somewhere to stay with his friend, but was frustrated at the length of time and the inability of health bureaucrats to understand the risks of different communities.
"I've got no problem with the process. It's great we protect one another and don't set up situations where we are a risk to the community. It's just unfortunate it's taken the government a long time to recognise many regions of NSW do not have large numbers of COVID cases.
"From my perspective the Department of Health never recognised the true nature of risk that we are to the Victorian community."
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While stuck in Lismore, Mr Meers has been keeping busy writing, researching, gardening with his friend and "doing what everyone else does, going for a walk, going to the shops and trying to find things to do".
More gardening awaits when he gets home to Alfredton where he will have to complete two weeks of quarantine.
"Before I left I planted a whole lot of veggies which I've never been able to access so the veggie garden has all gone to seed, the weeds are crazy and the grass is long so at least I'll keep busy."
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