A police escort will be required for the dozens of ACT residents trapped at the Victorian border and denied entry into NSW and transit home after a sudden clampdown in border restrictions.
Frantic negotiations on Saturday, culminating in direct, top-level discussions between ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, have managed to secure passage through NSW for the stranded motorists.
ACT police are preparing an operations plan for Sunday in which the residents will be accompanied from the Victorian border into the ACT.
Despite having the required exemption paperwork which allowed transit through NSW, dozens of Canberra residents returning home by car from Victoria became "collateral damage" after a sudden clampdown which came into effect at 12.01am on Thursday. Many were stranded, waiting for hours by the side of the road in cold and rainy conditions.
Urgent phone calls made between ACT and NSW Health officials resolved the impasse but the new deal brings fresh caveats, the details of which were still uncertain for the remainder of the 100 Canberrans still seeking to return home from Victoria.
Uncertainty now surrounds the travel plans for Canberrans who won't be part of Sunday's police convoy.
By late Saturday, it was thought an agreement had been reached with the NSW government for ACT residents to transit home on their own, provided they had the correct approvals. A deadline was given for all Canberrans travelling by road to be out and across the border by midday Tuesday.
But the NSW stance toughened as the hours progressed, bringing with it the demand for an ACT police escort.
"We're still waiting on NSW permits to get them [the Canberra residents] across," said Dr Vanessa Johnston, the ACT deputy chief health officer.
"The anticipated timeline from NSW Health is that process should be in place by [Saturday night]. Everyone is working toward [Saturday night] as a deadline to do that.
"We have contacted all of those people previously granted an exemption to transit to the ACT by land to advise them."
"These people will need their proof of identification to show to NSW police at the border. We will be issuing the appropriate paperwork as well to enter."
Many of the stranded transit Canberrans had been in Victoria working, studying, attending funerals, or attending to urgent family matters and the closure of the vehicle border at Albury-Wodonga had caught them all by surprise.
When the restriction came into effect, NSW police were advising people their only recourse for a return to Canberra was by Sydney Airport and they would have to isolate there at their own expense in an approved hotel for 14 days before going on to the ACT.
What is now uncertain is whether those who are not in the escort will be permitted to transit at all, but will have to remain in Victoria or travel by air.
Two young Canberra women who did not want to be named were among those caught up in the border closure fiasco on Friday and spoke to The Canberra Times.
They had filled out their exemption forms, had packed all their belongings into a car and were expecting to be waved through only to be turned back by NSW police around 6pm on Friday.
"We couldn't go back to Melbourne at that point because we would never have made it back before the 8pm city curfew," one of the women, a university student, said.
"We were pretty stressed out because we had nothing to go back to and there's no way we could go back and fly out because our car is just full of all our belongings.
"We've packed up completely from where we were staying in Melbourne. NSW police at the border said we should have known about the change, but we hadn't heard anything at all which related to ACT residents."
Dr Johnston said around 100 ACT residents had been granted an exemption by ACT Health to transit through NSW and return to Canberra, where they would automatically have to self-isolate for 14 days.
"Not all these residents were planning to return this weekend or even next week, some of them [the exemptions] go out to later in the month," she said.
"We completely understand people's frustrations and we have been on the phone with a lot of them, back and forth, trying to keep them updated with the latest information," she said. "It's been a challenging 48 hours for those ACT residents who have been impacted by these restrictions."
Dr Johnston said Canberrans with land travel exemptions would be required to travel by the most direct route through NSW.