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A home alone Christmas: 30,000 Victorians spend day in isolation

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Contracting COVID-19 a week out from Christmas has been the proverbial cherry on top of a tough year for Kingsville mother Ferdi Hepworth.

After a tough second year of lockdowns, Ms Hepworth has been confined to her bed for the past six weeks with a serious spinal injury. Then, last weekend her nine-year-old daughter Olive, who has special needs, tested positive for COVID-19.

Cohealth worker Heather Svendsen dropping off a Christmas hamper to Kingsville mum Ferdi Hepworth who is battling COVID-19 and a spinal injury alone on Chirstmas Day.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Finally, four days ago, the virus came for Ms Hepworth too.

“It’s actually been quite bad,” she said. “It’s like a bad flu, but the first few days were like nothing else [I’ve experienced].”

Zapped of energy and on her back for most of the day, Ms Hepworth was unable to care for Olive so had to send her to finish her quarantine period at her father’s house – leaving the single mum alone on Christmas Day.

“My friends are laughing at me being the saddest lady in Melbourne,” she joked wryly.

Many Victorians have cancelled social plans or avoided crowds over the past few weeks to protect themselves from the virus at Christmas, but Ms Hepworth is among 30,100 who were unsuccessful. About half of them (15,471) were confirmed to have an active case of the virus, while the others had been in close contact with someone who had it.

The tradition in Francesca Kenneally’s family on Christmas Day is to feast before settling in to watch Bridget Jones’ Diary. This year the 23-year-old student will have take part on a screen from a hotel room.

“It’s the first Christmas in about 10 years that I won’t be able to watch it with [my family],” said Ms Kenneally, one of 150 people spending Saturday in hotel quarantine.

Ms Kenneally, who is double vaccinated, is not sure how she contracted the virus. She was pinged more than two weeks ago after going to a Fitzroy nightclub, but returned a negative test afterwards.

Francesca Kenneally is spending Christmas in hotel quarantine. 

She had a follow-up test last week after developing symptoms, and returned a positive result. To avoid the chance of passing the virus on to her Preston housemates or parents, she decided to do her quarantine at the Holiday Inn on Flinders Street, rather than isolate at home.

“It [also] would have just been worse mentally to be so close but not be able to see anyone,” she said.

There were about 60 community members and 95 overseas returned travellers expected to be in hotel quarantine on Saturday who would be treated to a special menu including roast turkey, glazed ham, mince tarts and Christmas pudding. A program spokesman said small Christmas trees were also available for residents to decorate their rooms.

For some Melburnians, a lonely Christmas has come after already completing stints of isolation this month as surging cases in Melbourne snagged thousands of close contacts.

English teacher Catherine McInerney, 45, caught COVID during a work dinner at a restaurant midway through last week and tested positive on Sunday. This came six days after she finished a seven-day isolation period for being a close contact when her partner contracted the virus.

Catherine McInerney spends Christmas at home in Reservoir isolating because she contracted COVID-19.

“I think I was more angry with the first [period of isolation],” the Reservoir woman said. “This time, I’m just a bit calm. By the time I’m recovered, I’ll have clocked up 17 days served for the month of December.”

Over in Hampton, the Ries family of five have all been in isolation since December 13 after 11-year-old Spencer first caught the virus, which then slowly made its way through mum Dominique and onto Rafferty, 7.

While dad Stephen and eldest son Oliver, 13, have somehow managed to evade the virus, the family is bunkering down together until their final quarantine period ends on New Year’s Eve.

“We’ve sort of taken a bit of a one in, all in approach,” Stephen said.

Mr Ries said his family considered themselves lucky – they were all recovering well from the virus and could be together in a spacious house over Christmas with neighbours and family dropping off food – “in some cases, three-course meals”.

Back in the city’s west, Heather Svendsen is one of multiple “runners” with Cohealth – the organisation that delivers essentials, hampers and toys to more than 2500 isolating residents, including Ms Hepworth in Kingsville, and those in public housing towers.

“[Because of this job] I’m very grateful I haven’t contracted COVID,” Ms Svendsen said. “Seeing what people are going through in isolation, I’m very grateful for what I have.”

Heather Svendsen (left) pays a visit to Ferdi Hepworth as she isolates for Christmas.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Christmas Day is already a difficult time for Ms Hepworth, having lost her brother to suicide about this time five years ago. Being alone this year, without her family and dealing with her injury won’t make that any easier.

But she said the support from her community who is checking in on her and dropping off food – including a prawn curry for her Christmas lunch – had been incredibly moving.

“It’s reinforced for me that it doesn’t matter what you have, what your job is or anything like that it’s about how deeply you’re loved and your connection with people. That’s real wealth you know?”

If you’re struggling during this holiday period, help is available 24/7 by calling Lifeline on 13 11 14. Access free tools for coping physically and mentally when isolating with COVID-19 here.

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