Thousands of backpackers may be sent home
Update: Backpackers stranded in Australian hostels unable to travel or work may have no choice but to go home if health experts decide their living arrangements aren't safe.
With social distancing restrictions preventing people from going out for non-essential reasons, and many of the industries that employ backpackers, such as hospitality, closed down, thousands of young travellers could be advised by the federal government to go home sooner rather than later.
Though many hostels have introduced social distancing measures, there have been numerous examples of backpackers ignoring advice and gathering in large groups. On Tuesday night, police were forced to shut down three backpacker parties in Sydney.
One of them was at Noahs Backpacker Hostel in Bondi, which announced it was closing on Thursday. Manager Dylan Tenbrink said it was impossible to keep operating amid the scrutiny.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the group advising national leaders on COVID19 - the Australian Health Principle Protection Committee - was currently considering issues around hostels.
"(It's) to make sure that we have the best possible and the safest arrangements for everybody," he said.
As of March 31 there were 119,265 people in Australia on Working Holiday Maker (WHM) visas, which are popular among backpackers as it allows them to stay in the country for one or two years and earn a modest income to support their travel.
About 20 per cent of people on working holidays in Australia are from the UK, 15 per cent from France and 12 per cent from Germany, with South Korea and Taiwan the next biggest groups.
Backpacker Marcos Renison, 28, has been stranded in Sydney since his home country Argentina closed its borders.
"I'm stuck here - I cannot return home because they have closed the airports. I also can't get any work here," he said.
"If the Australian Government forced us to go home I do not know what I would do."
Canadian biology Student Leeza Lapshin, 21 said she does not know what would happen if she is forced out of Australia.
"I love Australia. I want to stay here," she said.
The pair said their last goodbyes to Israeli man Josh Dagan, 25, out the front of the Coogee hostel they had shared.
"It is sad to go but my country had organised an emergency flight for me back home," Mr Dagan said.
"I had only been here for a few months. I wanted to stay but there are no job opportunities so I have to leave."
Meanwhile some backpackers with health qualifications who are in the country on WHM visas are desperate to help Australia with its COVID19 response, but are constrained by a requirement to do farm work for three months.
UK traveller Marie Hibbert, 25, was working at a coronavirus clinic in Brisbane before she was forced to leave to do farm work so she could extend her visa for a second year.
The qualified nurse said while she appreciated supporting agriculture was important, she felt her skills could be better used to fight the pandemic.
"I take pride in helping others, it's the reason I became a nurse so I feel awful not being able to," she said.
"When I was at the COVID clinic we were very busy … even if I could do nursing in a regional or remote area that would be good."
Originally published as Thousands of backpackers may be sent home