Aaron Bunch Journalist with Australian Associated Press | Collection of published work | + 61 484 008 119 | abunch@aap.com.au

Aaron Bunch
Backpackers struggle under COVID-19 rules

Stranded backpackers are struggling to adhere to social distancing regulations in crowded youth hostels across Australia as they wait for flights home.

April 3, 2020

Stranded international backpackers risk hefty fines and coronavirus infection as they wait for flights home in crowded youth hostels across Australia.

Many continue to flout social distancing regulations in hotspots like Bondi Beach and the Gold Coast, frustrating police and local residents.

Others are simply struggling to adhere to the COVID-19 directives in shared sleeping quarters, eating areas and bathrooms amid a nation-wide stay home order.

“It is scary, the police have been here twice. I do not want to be fined for being here but what choice do I have? There is nowhere else for us to go,” Chilean Eduardo Galdames, 30, told AAP on Friday.

He is staying at a popular Brisbane hostel where more than 50 people are trying to share one kitchen.

The hostel’s staff have plastered the walls with posters to inform their guests about the new regulations and the $1334 fine for ignoring them.

But there is little they can do to hold back young travellers’ lust to socialise, and many continue to gather in groups or hit the streets at night.

It comes as airlines cancel flights and prices skyrocket for the remaining seats on routes back to countries often fairing far worse with the coronavirus crisis than Australia.

“I have had two flights cancelled already. My government organised a flight but there was only seats for family groups,” said German Elias Quo, 19.

“I just want to get home to my family.”

He is now hoping for a seat on a Qatar Airways flight next week but others have been told they could be stuck for months.

Italian Giordano Brugnoni, 35, is not expecting to leave for his home near Como anytime soon.

“No one gets in or out, my family is in lockdown,” he said while sweeping the car park at his hostel, where he has begun working to pay for his room.

The situation is the same at Perth’s Old Swan Barracks Backpacker Hostel, where guest numbers have fallen from 200 to about 20 people, who are all struggling to get flights home.

“If you are 18 or 19 and it is the first time you have left home, it is a pretty overwhelming situation for them,” manager Miranda Bell said.

She has sought clarity about the COVID-19 regulations for communal living spaces after the Western Australian government introduced $1000 fines for not social distancing.

“We are working to keep everyone safe from the virus but the rules are bit confusing and a grey area.”

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