"People here in the UK often ask me: 'How did Australia manage to control the virus so well?"Alexander Yao

Seeing my friends back home in Australia on social media going to the beach, soaking up the sun and enjoying a drink while watching the late sunsets as the UK’s cases continue to rise has provided me with a jarring contrast which seems so removed from reality. It’s strange being an international student during Covid times, but even more so being from the other side of the world. The first lockdown in March truly gave ‘unprecedented’ a whole new meaning. With three of my flights booked, cancelled and rebooked, staying up from 11pm until 5am on the phone to the airline, and arriving back in Sydney the day before compulsory hotel quarantining was imposed even for Australian residents, I can’t help but marvel at my English friends who can get back home in a car within a matter of hours.

The last week of Lent term last year was unbelievably strange. It was a period during which nobody in the world knew what would come next, and seeing my friends head back home within the UK or Europe while I was left as the only person in my twenty-person corridor was such a surreal experience. There were about five of us left in a cohort of one-hundred-and-sixty on our accommodation site. I remember thinking to myself how strangely quiet it was, where usually the spaces would be buzzing with the excitement of conversations outside rooms, film nights, music and chatter from the gyps, and queues for hall. The peacefulness was welcome at a time when the outside world seemed to be facing more chaos than ever before, but it was not the end of Lent Term which anyone expected.

Easter Term of last year was also an otherworldly experience in a different way, managing the 11-hour time difference with classes from 7pm to 4am and squeezing in dinner with family at 10pm. I’m lucky to have been able to keep in touch with friends back in the UK thanks to the wonders of technology, even if it meant waking up my whole family at 3am with our laughter and other indescribable noises made on Zoom calls.

“Easter Term of last year was also an otherworldly experience in a different way, managing the 11-hour time difference with classes from 7pm to 4am”

Back in Australia, I definitely enjoyed my time back home with family at a time when there was so much uncertainty. The country’s fast and strict management strategies from the very beginning meant that lockdown started earlier and restrictions were far tougher than almost anywhere else in the world, and by June, the country was essentially back to normal. Bar an outbreak in the state of Victoria in July and August, the rest of the country has seen only either zero or on rare occasions, single-digit case numbers for over half a year now.

Alexander Yao

People here in the UK often ask me: “How did Australia manage to control the virus so well?”, “What did they do differently?” On the odd instances where cities have seen above five cases in one day, residents have seen their entire city plunged into a full lockdown within hours’ notice, and within a matter of days, they’ve returned to a situation of zero transmission. Now having returned to the UK from a country where every single person who has contracted the virus has been tested, I still find it startling that there must be thousands of cases in England which go unreported.

Many of my friends back home have sent me messages of concern, unable to understand how people can even have the courage to go out into the streets given the situation in the UK. This shock was definitely part of my own experience in returning to Cambridge for my second year. The absolute disparity in lifestyle and approaches between the two countries took some getting used to, especially in the autumn when Cambridge’s narrow streets were still filled with people, having to squeeze through crowds to get from one place to another. I was admittedly astonished at such scenes and uneasy, given the stark contrast with the cautious behaviour of Australians despite single-digit or zero cases.

“With the new lockdown enforced, I feel this chasm between England and Australia even more strongly”

Throughout much of Michaelmas Term this year, I strongly considered going home for the Christmas break to a warm, sunny haven, but as for many Australians, the trip ultimately did not seem worth it, as the attitude to international arrivals has remained unforgivingly strict. Overseas passengers coming into Sydney are capped at only 1500 per week, and the government’s imposing of a mandatory $3000 two-week hotel quarantine at one’s own expense has caused a considerable list of hurdles which citizens wishing to return must consider. I realised that if I had wanted to go home for the holidays, I would essentially have to spend the same amount of time in hotel quarantine as back home. It’s fair to say that with flights themselves at £10,000 or more, the entire procedure when returning to Australia has definitely helped the country’s success, but its impact on stranded Australians deserves another article. 


Mountain View

Lockdown: The experience of an estranged student

As hard as it was at the time to accept spending the festive season away from home, I was looking forward to a cold Christmas in Europe. Cambridge has so much beauty and tradition to offer, and walking through the centre and within the walls of my college, Caius, is something truly unique. Of course, seeing my friends in Australia back in reopened clubs, people attending weddings and birthday parties with hundreds of invitees is always a reminder of another reality – scenes which in other countries like the UK are only reminiscent of in films.

With the new lockdown enforced, I feel this chasm between England and Australia even more strongly, and there is even more uncertainty for students who cannot simply travel back home from Cambridge or head back onto campus at a moment’s notice. Watching Australia (and yes, admittedly New Zealand as well, as much as we Aussies don’t love to acknowledge their success) essentially back to normality but not being able to head back is tough and taxing at times, but I feel so lucky and am so grateful to be here in Cambridge so it’s hard to complain!