British backpackers could be deported from Australia after holding a Christmas Day beach party in defiance of Covid rules – amid a growing outbreak which has led to tougher restrictions in Sydney.
Some revellers deleted their social media profiles after photos of the Bronte rave circulated online and were condemned by Australia’s immigration minister.
Witnesses said that many of the partygoers had English accents, some of them thought to be British backpackers who have stayed in Australia since the country closed its border because of the pandemic.
New Zealand backpacker Tarik Kent, who went to the park behind Bronte Beach about 1pm on Christmas Day, said people had gradually congregated ‘as music played and people got drunker’.
He said he left after a few hours but returned later in the day with other friends, and was shocked to see the park swarming with a crowd of revellers in Santa hats.
‘More and more people showed up by the minute,’ he said. ‘It was predominantly British and Irish. Apparently it’s a popular Irish spot during Christmas every year.’
New South Wales has recorded nearly 150 locally transmitted cases in the last fortnight, a high level of contagion for Australia.
Immigration minister Alex Hawke said he was ‘shocked’ by people ‘flagrantly disregarding public health orders’ after hundreds of people gathered at the beach.
‘You have to obey the orders though and if you don’t, you will be liable to face visa cancellation if you are a temporary visa holder,’ he told Sky News.
One British woman at the party, Elisha Palfrey, sent this photo to her father showing the Christmas festivities at Bronte Beach which have angered Australians
One UK father posted this photo of his daughter and her friends (right) and jokingly compared it to his cold Christmas at home
Christmas party: People wearing Santa hats enjoy a day of revelry at the Bronte seaside in Sydney, an event which has been condemned by the Australian government
Some of the revellers who spent Christmas Day in Bronte. Gatherings of up to 100 people were permitted in Sydney at the time, but there were many more than that in the park at the height of the festive revelry. Witnesses said that many of the partygoers had English accents, some of them thought to be British backpackers
Some people posted social media pictures of themselves attending a Christmas Day party in Sydney, which is now facing tougher restrictions after a rise in cases
New South Wales health minister Brad Hazzard said the behaviour of the partygoers was ‘absolutely appalling’ and could lead to a ‘super-spreader event’.
‘People in the Northern Beaches have been doing their part big-time to keep not only themselves but the rest of Sydney safe,’ Hazzard said.
‘It is absolutely appalling to see what was clearly a group of people, a large gathering of people, who didn’t give a damn about the rest of Sydney.
He added: ‘If they were in Europe right now, most of them would be in lockdown and not even allowed outside the front door.’
Police from the New South Wales public order and riot squad were called to help break up the crowd in a grassed area in Bronte.
While most of the partygoers were moved on by police, one 25-year-old man refused to leave and will face court in the new year.
Australia’s border has been closed to most outsiders for months in order to keep out the virus – but some of the revellers are thought to be British backpackers who were already in the country and remained there during the pandemic.
In normal times, young people from the UK are eligible for a 12-month ‘working holiday visa’ in Australia which can potentially be extended for up to three years.
Witness: New Zealand backpacker Tarik Kent (pictured) said he left the park when it was quiet but within just a few hours people ‘wearing Santa hats’ began to flood into Bronte Beach
Police believe the event was not pre-planned, but rather a spur of the moment celebration that expanded as word spread and more foreigners were invited
NSW Police believe the event was not pre-planned, but rather a spur of the moment celebration that expanded as word spread and more foreigners were invited.
One Sydney pub has ordered a staff member who was at the Bronte Beach party to get tested for Covid-19 and isolate while awaiting results.
But there was no sign of any such concerns on the day, with one woman even sending a photo of herself drinking and embracing friends back to her father in Britain – who then shared it on his own Facebook, telling followers how different things were in Australia to the UK
‘So this morning I’m taking a picture of snow and I get a picture from my daughter living it up on Bronte Beach, Sydney,’ he wrote.
The party infuriated Sydney residents who fear it could lead to a spike in cases and another lockdown in the city.
At the time of the gathering, up to 100 people were allowed to meet outdoors in greater Sydney, but there were believed to be more than that at the party and the limit has since been halved to 50.
Similar scenes occurred on the beaches at the popular backpacking destination of Byron Bay on the NSW northern coast.
Photos showed hundreds of people gathering on Belongil Beach, north of the town, on Christmas Eve to dance and drink as a DJ played.
Social distancing was non-existent at Bronte as crowds danced closely together
Australia’s immigration minister said he was ‘shocked’ by people ‘flagrantly disregarding public health orders’ after hundreds of people gathered at the beachside park
Anger over the Christmas raves came as Sydney recorded 18 new locally transmitted cases in 24 hours, a high number for Australia which has led to restrictions on New Year’s Eve gatherings.
Six cases, all from one extended family, were connected to the same area of Croydon, while nine were linked to a Northern Beaches cluster and other cases in Wollongong and northern Sydney are under investigation.
The new local cases have prompted the NSW government to limit indoor New Year’s Eve gatherings across all of greater Sydney to five people. The Sydney foreshore has already been closed off to firework watchers.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said he supported the measure and believed NSW Health would squash the outbreak.
‘NSW Health right throughout this pandemic have been our poster people, if you like, in relation to their contact tracing,’ Dr Kelly told reporters on Wednesday.
‘It’s always amazing how quickly they get onto things and how quickly they work through what are sometimes very complex chains of transmission and get very detailed genomic analysis.’
The Northern Territory on Wednesday also barred residents from Sydney suburbs including Croydon, Strathfield and Sutherland from entry.
Meanwhile, the first case in Australia of the South African Covid-19 variant is a woman who arrived in Queensland on December 22. She was transferred to a hospital on Tuesday.