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More than 80 people at a Byron Bay backpacker hostel have been placed in lockdown for at least 48 hours after an unvaccinated staff member from Victoria tested positive for COVID-19.
Police were stationed outside Aquarius Backpackers on Lawson Street on Thursday and are monitoring the site 24 hours a day.
The case comes as thousands of school leavers prepare to descend on Byron Bay and other North Coast holiday spots for annual schoolies celebrations.
NSW health authorities have confirmed the on-site worker who tested positive was not vaccinated.
Northern NSW Local Health District chief executive Wayne Jones said the case was a woman from Victoria and authorities were investigating the vaccination status of all guests.
“There’s still a lot of water to go under the bridge as we understand and untangle this,” he said on ABC radio.
Mr Jones said 81 guests and staff at the hostel were now subject to a stop-and-stay order, which prevents them from leaving the site for two days while contact tracing is under way.
He said authorities were providing COVID-19 testing and vaccinations at the hostel and “assessing any requirements for ongoing isolation arrangements”.
It came as NSW on Thursday recorded 276 new COVID-19 cases and no deaths. On Wednesday, 248 cases were recorded.
Chief Inspector of Byron Bay police Matt Kehoe said officers would be on the site for seven days, but expected people would be allowed out before then.
He said police did not expect schoolies celebrations would be affected by the cases.
“We don’t want to be naive; we don’t want to be complacent,” he said.
“We do know that COVID is still within our communities, and it’s all around the country.”
On Wednesday night, Ballina MP Tamara Smith suggested residents would be locked down for a week.
She said guests and staff stuck in the hostel were being offered health support and provided food and essential supplies.
“My thoughts are with everyone in that situation as it will be a tough time, and I will keep checking in to make sure that people are getting the support they need,” she said.
Ms Smith told Nine News on Thursday she was waiting to see whether there were additional close contacts.
“People in the community are very nervous about that,” she said.
The hostel has been contacted for comment.
On Thursday morning, Byron Bay resident and bookshop owner Karen Martin dropped off donated books for the guests stuck in the hostel.
“They’ve come here for a holiday and now this happens. The town really comes together at times like this,” she said.
“It’s hard for everyone. I just hope that people can open their hearts and be as safe as possible. We haven’t had a case for ages in our area.”
Two new COVID-19 cases were reported in the Northern NSW Local Health District on Thursday. One was linked to an existing case in the Richmond Valley Local Government Area, while the other was a household contact of an existing case in Ballina LGA.
The worker in Byron Bay, considered a further case, was “reported earlier in NSW Health’s daily totals”, the health district said.
The state’s double-dose vaccination rate of people aged 16 and older sits at 92.1 per cent while 94.4 per cent have received at least one dose.
In Byron Bay, where vaccination rates have lagged compared with other areas, 80 per cent of people aged 16 and older are now fully vaccinated.
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