Byron Bay in nervous holding pattern as backpackers' COVID case tests underway

By By Hannah Ross and Saunders Miranda
Police are enforcing a 48-hour 'stop and stay' order for the 81 guests and staff of Byron Bay's Aquarius Backpackers. (ABC North Coast: Bruce MacKenzie and Miranda Saunders)

Byron Bay businesses are nervously waiting for the results of COVID-19 contact tracing and testing after a worker at the Aquarius Backpacker Hostel tested positive to the virus on Wednesday and more than 80 people were identified as close contacts.

The accommodation facility is halfway through a 48-hour 'stop and stay' order issued on Wednesday afternoon after the detection of the positive COVID-19 case.

Wayne Jones from the Northern New South Wales Local Health District said the orders will give authorities time to carry out contact tracing and assess the vaccination status of people in the hostel.

So far the health district has identified 81 guests and on-site staff as close contacts and have instructed them to self-isolate.

Guests of the Aquarius backpacker hostel are under 48-hour lockdown after a confirmed COVID-19 case. (ABC North Coast: Miranda Saunders)

President of the Byron Bay Chamber of Commerce Jason Bentley said local traders were feeling anxious about what the positive case could mean for the wider community.

"Contact tracing over the next 48 hours will be interesting, to reveal where this individual might have visited," Mr Bentley said.

Local shopkeeper Natalie McGarry said businesses had ramped up restrictions on the number of people entering stores.

Natalie McGarry is hopeful the positive case will not impact retail trade. 

"I think everyone is confident that this won't throw us back into some sort of a lockdown. I think it's just kicked everyone into gear about being more vigilant about checking in," she said.

"Like a hundred different thoughts come into your mind about what's going to happen from it, but at the same time, l have confidence in thinking we have done and we've done it a few times now and hopefully that things have been put in place so that it doesn't affect us," she said.

Byron Bay cafe employee Arthur Ferrandez said he was hopeful the new case wouldn't affect increased trade from the annual schoolies week and the upcoming holiday season.

"Hopefully, they can just contain it and let the town be what it needs to be," he said.

"It needs to be busy for the businesses to thrive, honestly.

Byron Bay cafe employee Arthur Ferrandez says he hopes new cases won't affect trade. (Photo: Miranda Saunders)

On Wednesday, guests at the backpacker hostel were confined to their rooms as health authorities carried out contact tracing and tested each person for the virus.

Melbourne man Jesse Stenhouse has been staying at the hostel for several months while he works as a concreter in the area.

He said he and his roommates were told this morning their COVID test results had come back negative.

"We did the testing yesterday and then we have to do another testing on the sixth day just to double check that everything is all good and nothing has slipped through," Mr Stenhouse said.

"So Monday we should be done.

"Patient zero, I guess you could call them, they've been taken to a health facility so they don't infect us and I don't think anyone else has got it so everyone is pretty lucky so far. 

"Everyone's pretty understandably frustrated, but trying to stay occupied and happy and get along."

Jesse Stenhouse (far right) and his roommates at Byron Bay's Aquarius Backpackers hostel. (ABC North Coast: Bruce MacKenzie)

Police detective Chief Inspector Matt Kehoe said he was comfortable with the measures being taken to contain the spread of COVID-19 following the confirmed case. 

Specialist police from across the state were booked to travel to Byron Bay to oversee schoolies celebrations in coming weeks.

Chief Inspector Kehoe said police had adequate resources to also ensure guests at the hostel continued to comply with the 'stop and stay' order.

"We've already put planning in place with regards to extra police and they won't be taken away from our existing resources," he said.

A pop-up COVID-19 testing clinic will operate at the Cavanbah Sports Complex at Ewingsdale today from 9:00AM until 4PMpm, and over the weekend from 9:00AM until 2:00PM.

What COVID-19 travel insurance doesn't cover you for (Emilia Terzon)

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