With the wind blowing against their tanned faces and designer beanies covering their flowing locks, a group of 20 high-flyers from Melbourne on a ski holiday in Colorado had no idea they were about to be caught up in a global crisis.
Aspen is the go to place for the world’s rich and famous, but was placed into lockdown at the beginning of March amid concern the virus had taken hold.
The Melbourne ski group, which included an elite businessman and former state treasurer, returned to Australia on March 13.
The ‘Colorado cluster’ has now been linked to the coronavirus outbreak sweeping across Melbourne’s richest suburbs.
Dozens who came in contact with members of the group are believed to have been infected while attending exclusive school cocktail parties in Toorak and Armadale.
Flexigroup chairman and former state Liberal Party treasurer Andrew Abercrombie and his wife Shadda – who tested negative to the virus – were among those holidaying at a ski resort in Aspen.
Other members of the trip included entrepreneur Sophie Carnegie-Cooper and her partner, debt expert Michael Backwell, and marketing analyst Eliza Honan.
Authorities believe the infections originated from a child of one of the members of the group, who had visited them in Aspen.
Health authorities are urgently checking Melburnians who had contact with the Aspen group, which included successful business people and members of the social elite.
On Thursday, data revealed the posh municipality of Stonnington, which includes leafy suburbs such as Toorak and Armadale, had 57 confirmed cases of the virus.
The Mornington Peninsula, which includes posh Portsea and Sorrento, has the next highest number, with 36 cases, while the City of Melbourne has 32.
It has been reported that a man who interacted with skiers on that trip had since fallen ill with the virus and was fighting for his life.
The Herald Sun this week reported Portsea residents were furious with members of the Aspen cluster.
On Thursday, Mr Abercrombie broke his silence after being linked to the scandal.
A spokeswoman for Mr Abercrombie told the Herald Sun he had tested negative to coronavirus tests both in the US and back in Australia on his return.
They had isolated themselves within the ski village after hearing someone they had been in contact with there had contracted the virus.
After being cleared by US authorities to return to Melbourne, they were tested for coronavirus by authorities here and again tested negative.
‘He has twice tested negative for COVID-19 and on Thursday received a notice from VicHealth confirming his isolation period is over,’ Mr Abercrombie’s spokeswoman told the newspaper.
The couple, while in good health, continued to isolate themselves in Melbourne for the required 14-day period.
He also clarified he had not been in Portsea since leaving for overseas in February.
Daily Mail Australia is not suggesting Mr Abercrombie or any others mentioned were flouting restrictions on people returning overseas.
On Thursday, Portsea residents hit out at people they believed were spreading the virus.
‘It’s astonishing and people down here are just appalled,’ one Portsea local, who asked not to be named, told the Herald Sun.
One member of the cluster, who remained anonymous, confirmed she had been infected with the virus, but had self isolated.
‘I’ve been cleared by the Health Department since last Friday,’ she said.
‘We are the responsible ones in this and people have nothing better to do than be nasty.
‘I’ll tell you what, if we lived in Box Hill and I’d been to Bali no-one would care, would they?’
At least five Geelong Grammar parents contracted the virus at a cocktail party for a Timbertop family earlier this month and a snowboarder also has it.
A man who interacted with one of the group at the cocktail party on March 14 was reportedly hospitalised after contracting the virus, but has since recovered.
It also has spread to others via a 21st birthday party and been blamed for potentially dozens of cases across Melbourne’s wealthy inner east and southeast.
The rapid spread of the disease has caused disputes among guests at the party, who claim the woman should have immediately placed herself into isolation when she returned to Melbourne a day earlier.
It is understood about 80 guests attended the function.
At that point, the woman had not experienced any symptoms and had not been tested.
The woman’s son sent an SMS message on March 22 to former students of Scotch College warning of potential exposure to the virus.
For some, it was already too late.
The Age reported the pair were tested at Frankston Hospital on March 15, but claimed they were later spotted at shops in Sorrento and a nearby golf course.
An outbreak in Noosa in Queensland which has hit 30 people after a 50th birthday party on March 14 has also been linked to Aspen — with a man who went to the function at a restaurant having recently spent time at the Colorado resort.
Queensland Health confirmed four staff members continued to work at Sails Restaurant while they were unknowingly infectious.
Individuals face fines of up to $20,000 each if they don’t take steps to prevent the virus spreading.
Mr Abercrombie’s office has been contacted by Daily Mail Australia.
Some of Australia’s wealthiest suburbs are coronavirus hotspots after residents brought the virus back on first class flights, luxury cruises and a skiing trip to Aspen.
As of Friday morning, 93 of Victoria’s 520 confirmed cases were in the affluent areas of Stonnington and the Mornington Peninsula, The Australian reported.
Wealthy suburbs Toorak and South Yarra are in Stonnington, while the seaside havens of Portsea and Sorrento, where the rich have their holiday homes, are on the Mornington Peninsula.
Toorak-Portsea residents are fond of skiing in Aspen, Colorado, which has unfortunately now resulted in a cluster of cases from an exclusive Aspen Ski resort.
Victorian health authorities have been monitoring the Colorado ski trip cluster, with dozens of infections believed to have stemmed from one group visit.
It is believed that one of the children of the group had been travelling around the world before visiting them in Aspen and transmitting the virus.
One man who interacted with the alpine ski set is now fighting for his life in a Melbourne hospital.
Another person who went skiing in Aspen took the virus to Queensland, where they attended the 50th birthday party of property magnate Glen Wright who founded the charity GIVIT, the Courier Mail reported.
The lavish party was held at the Sails restaurant in Noosa, which has become the state’s largest coronavirus cluster.
Up to 30 people who attended the party including staff and Mr Wright’s brother Peter, a butcher, all tested positive for the virus.
Three of the guests were mothers of girls who attend Brisbane’s elite private school, St Margaret’s in Ascot, an exclusive suburb in Brisbane’s inner north.
While the Colorado ski trip cluster may have infected hundreds of people, it has by no means been the only source of infection.
A NSW Health Department list shows more than 20 international flights in just one month – from 22 February to March 21 – where people came in close contact with an infected passenger in first or business class.
In NSW, the wealthiest areas of Sydney had more than half of the state’s 1,219 infections as of Thursday, although total case numbers have since risen again.
The Eastern Suburbs, which include the exclusive suburbs of Vaucluse, Point Piper, Rose Bay and Bellevue Hill, had recorded 319 cases of coronavirus as of Tuesday.
Waverley, which includes Bondi, Bronte and Queens Park, recorded 105 cases.
Bondi’s outbreak is not only confined to wealthy circles as there has been an outbreak among backpackers who have flown in from overseas.
Sydney’s inner city accounts for 91 cases, and there are 247 cases on the north shore, with the expensive Northern Beaches also one of the virus hotspots.
Luxury cruises popular among retirees have also become the gateway for coronavirus to enter Australia.
Half of South Australia’s 38 new cases of coronavirus come from the cruise ship Ruby Princess which docked in Sydney on March 19 after a tour of New Zealand, bringing the state’s total to 235 as of Friday.
Western Australia’s first death from coronavirus was a man in his 70s who had been reported to have been a passenger on the Ruby Princess but had instead travelled on another vessel.
The man’s death brings the national total to 13.
Fourteen cruise ships were being held offshore unable to dock at Australian ports on Thursday night following the death.
West Australian Police Commissioner Chris Dawson used state of emergency powers to ban passengers from the coronavirus-infected German cruise ship Artania from disembarking.
The ship has seven coronavirus cases aboard and is anchored 1km offshore.
Both Western Australia and NSW have given police the job of blocking cruise ships from docking, The Australian reported on Friday.