Hostels open, party over for backpackers

Australian hostels are allowed to remain open under current restrictions but there have been clusters of the coronavirus among backpackers and the Prime Minister has urged visitors on visas to head home.

Last weekend, Scott Morrison announced that social gatherings should be limited to two people instead of 10.

Travelling up and down the east coast has also come to a screaming halt after Queensland closed its borders.

The most virus-hit states, NSW (2493 cases) and Victoria (1115 cases), have since cracked down on the social gathering rule and have urged residents not to welcome additional people into their homes.

While there has been confusion about what constitutes a "household" and whether backpackers are free to drink together in their hostels, Mr Morrison made his position towards holiday-makers quite clear in a press conference on Friday.

 

"We still have quite a number of people who are here on visitor visas," he said.

"As much as it is lovely to have visitors to Australia in good times, at times like this if you're a visitor in this country, it is time, as it has been now for some while - and I know many visitors have - to make your way home and to ensure that you can receive the supports that are available … in your home countries."

 

A backpacker hostel in Bondi. Picture: Steve Tyson
A backpacker hostel in Bondi. Picture: Steve Tyson

 

NOT WELCOMING LARGE GROUPS

Police were called to a number of incidents at backpacker accommodation across Sydney this week.

On the city's Northern Beaches, neighbours tipped off police and council rangers after at least eight people were captured socialising at a property in Collaroy, on the city's Northern Beaches, according to The Daily Telegraph.

The guests argued that because they were all living at the premises, they weren't technically breaching any rule.

On its website, Sydney Collaroy Beachouse YHA states it "isn't welcoming large groups at the moment" due to the impact of COVID-19.

Sydney Collaroy YHA.
Sydney Collaroy YHA.

Officers also swooped on a noisy rooftop party at a Kings Cross backpacker hostel where revellers were clearly flouting social distancing rules.

The footage obtained by 7 News shows a group of 11 revellers surrounded by cans and bottles, clearly in breach of the 1.5-metre guideline.

That same night in Bondi, NSW Police were alerted to a "social gathering" at a block of units on Ocean St.

They spoke with the owner who told them the group had earlier met in the backyard for drinks but had since dispersed.

"Police reinforced social distancing rules with the man, he was given a warning to comply with the government's current advice regarding social gatherings," a police spokesman told news.com.au.

According to the ABC, Noah's Backpackers Hostel on Campbell Parade in Bondi Beach closed this week after drawing scrutiny when people were seen gathering on a balcony ignoring distancing directives.

Manager Dylan Tenbrink said the tight-knit travelling community had been targeted and suffered from judgment and harassment as a result. Its website states it is closed for renovations and plans to reopen in July.

 

'INFECTED BACKPACKERS'

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Friday said health experts are worried about community to community transmission.

"What concerns us greatly is the number of cases being acquired without us knowing the source," she said.

"That's why we have to maintain our vigilance, that's why all of us have to keep sticking to the rules."

She said nobody should be leaving their home unless it is for one of 16 specified "reasonable excuses" in NSW.

On Friday, 336 of the state's 2389 cases were considered "locally acquired - contact not identified" and 63 others were under investigation.

Earlier this week, NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant called for "increased testing, particularly in areas where there's community transmission or around clusters" such as in Sydney's eastern suburbs.

One of those clusters still under investigation is from the Boogie Wonderland Party at the Bucket List in Bondi Beach on March 15. A pop-up coronavirus testing clinic has since opened just metres away at Bondi Pavilion.

Dr Chant confirmed there had been an outbreak of COVID-19 among backpackers in the surrounding area.

"We know there is a potential risk that other members of the community may have come in contact with infected backpackers," she said.

"We have had a small number of cases in that community where there aren't obvious links, but a plausible explanation is they have come into contact with an infected backpacker before that backpacker was aware they had COVID-19."

(L-R) Nurse Kurtis Who and Nurse Vanesa Hrsto from St Vincent’s Hospital at the Bondi clinic. Picture: Rohan Kelly
(L-R) Nurse Kurtis Who and Nurse Vanesa Hrsto from St Vincent’s Hospital at the Bondi clinic. Picture: Rohan Kelly

 

'BOARD A FLIGHT OUT OF AUSTRALIA'

In Victoria, there are only four reasons people should leave their homes - food and supplies, medical care and care giving, exercise, and work or education.

Backpackers have been told to regard the hostel as their home "for the purposes of the Stay at Home direction" and always observe physical distancing requirements while inside.

"You should avoid spending time in communal areas of the hostel," the state's health department advises.

"You may leave the hostel to board a flight out of Australia."

 

'THERE WILL BE OPPORTUNITIES'

The Prime Minister on Friday said the country must focus at present on its citizens and residents.

Mr Morrison said anyone from overseas who wanted to work in fruit picking or other such seasonal agricultural employment would be required to self-isolate for 14 days before travelling to "another part of the country".

He said it was to avoid a "lift up of the virus" from metropolitan areas, where it is more prevalent, to "more vulnerable" rural or regional areas.

"This is being done to ensure that those producers can get the work done but also to ensure that the communities are protected," the Prime Minister said.

He said accommodation for workers must also adhere to strict health and social distancing requirements.

"You can't have six backpackers in a caravan up out in rural parts of the country," Mr Morrison said.

"That's not on. Not going to happen."

The PM thinks now is not the right time to be holidaying in Australia. Picture: Gary Ramage
The PM thinks now is not the right time to be holidaying in Australia. Picture: Gary Ramage

The Prime Minister said restrictions had been lifted on student nurses in Australia, allowing some 20,000 additional student nurses to become available to the health system.

"For those backpackers who are nurses or doctors or have other critical skills that can really help us during this crisis then there will be opportunities for them as well," he said.

"But our focus and our priority is on supporting Australians and Australian residents with the economic supports that are available."

Originally published as Hostels open, party over for backpackers



TOTAL FIRE BAN: Fireys issue warning for Friday

TOTAL FIRE BAN: Fireys issue warning for Friday

Ballina, Byron, Tweed, Richmond, Clarence, Lismore, Kyogle affected

THE WINNER IS … Find out the Clarence’s spunkiest mullet

Premium Content THE WINNER IS … Find out the Clarence’s spunkiest mullet

Who has the spunkiest mullet in all of the Clarence Valley? The results are in!

Coffs Coast beckons as Surfer Groms Comp Series arrives

Premium Content Coffs Coast beckons as Surfer Groms Comp Series arrives

The 2020 Woolworths Surfer Groms Comp Series hits Coffs Harbour this weekend