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Cornflakes, fruit cups and drinking: life stuck in a locked-off Byron hostel

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Jason O’Brien/AAP</span>
Photograph: Jason O’Brien/AAP

Day three of lockdown at the Aquarius Backpackers, and all Nina D’Angelo craves is a decent coffee.

“I saw a cop drinking one and asked, ‘sir, could I have an almond latte please?’ But really it’s the lack of information that’s getting to me,” she said from her hostel dorm.

“We don’t know anything. We’ve just been waiting around … all sitting ducks. Are we getting out?”

The 22-year-old Sydney woman arrived in Byron Bay with two friends on Monday for a much-needed break after finishing a string of university assignments.

She is now one of 84 people placed into a week-long lockdown after an unvaccinated guest tested positive to Covid-19.

D’Angelo and her friends first became aware of an exposure returning from the gym on Wednesday morning. “The driveway was chained,” D’Angelo explained.

“We thought, ‘that’s a bit strange’, and went out for breakfast. When we got back there were cop cars out the front, and nobody was telling us anything.

Some people are studying, some are working from their rooms, others are just drinking

Shayla Calvert

“We stayed in our car until a police officer told us there was a Covid case, and we were like…’here we go’.

D’Angelo and her friends went out to get a test, and upon return, were told to go straight into isolation, with no further directions.

“Later that night everyone was wandering around, nobody was told to stay in their rooms,’ D’Angelo said.

“Then someone bought us all pizza for dinner, so we came to the common room and ate together, which was bizarre in isolation…I was like, ‘why are we all having a feast together?’ Like sure, cute.”

After dinner, D’Angelo headed to bed while others stayed up drinking, or partied in each other’s rooms. “We couldn’t leave and we were getting no instructions,” D’Angelo said.

“We just spent the night anxious and super unsure what was going on.”

Since then, D’Angelo had kept up with the latest news via the media, and said everyone had been in a “horrible mood”. “It’s raining, it’s just been yuck,” she said.

“It’s all very confusing … We go down to ask questions and they tell us to go to our room. It’s been quite traumatic. We don’t know whether to ask for a refund – because what are we paying for? Cornflakes and fruit cups.”

From the wrap-around balcony, D’Angelo had been able to interact with the 24-hour security guard manned out the front of the hostel, who confirmed a rumour someone had attempted to jump the fence on Thursday evening.

“I asked him if he had information and he said, ‘I have all of it,’ so I asked him if whoever’s tested negative can go home and isolate,” she said.

Aquarius Backpackers guests stuck inside.
Aquarius Backpackers guests stuck inside. Photograph: Jason O’Brien/AAP

“The majority have, and he said ‘I think so’, but we just don’t know. I’m staying in one room with eight people, if one person gets it, we all get it.”

D’Angelo said some people had planned to stay for a single night, arrived without toiletries and extra clothes and were now trapped for two weeks as they were unable to fly home until a fortnight after exposure.

“It’s so uncomfortable, we were meant to have a holiday and come back here to sleep, not stay in one room all day … it makes you nuts,” she said.

“Part of me wants to drink and another part is like, ‘am I going to be OK the next day?’ We’re all just trying to not stress each other out, and others are like, ‘just enjoy it’.

Shayla Calvert, 25, said she’d received “no messaging at all” from management apart from confirmation there’d been a positive case, and they were to remain in the hostel.

“We keep getting told different things depending on who you speak to,” she said. “Some people have been told they couldn’t leave until Thursday, others Tuesday or Wednesday … There seems to be no consistency.

“And because we’re mixed with unvaccinated people we don’t know if we have to isolate for 14 days.”

Related: What do we know about the new ‘worst ever’ Covid variant?

Calvert said she’d been getting by “watching a lot of TV”, though for others, stress was kicking in. It certainly wasn’t a schoolies-type binge-fuelled atmosphere.

Thousands of high school graduates were due to descend on the resort town this weekend for leaving celebrations.

“I don’t think there’s a single person here under 22,” Calvert said. “Some people are studying, some are working from their rooms, others are just drinking.

“They haven’t let us past our balcony, and we’re not allowed in the kitchen. The staff have been great getting us food but there are three coeliacs in our dorm … Apart from a fruit cup there wasn’t much we could eat.

“The lack of communication is distressing. If they just kept us informed, that would be enough.”

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