St John's May Ball, one of the most extravagant events on the May Week calendarSt Johns May Ball/Lokum Media

Every year for a week in late June, Cambridge colleges light up in spectacular colour. As the summer sun dims, students in formal dress flock to May Balls and June Events. They’ll stay at the balls until early morning: sipping prosecco, or punting along the Cam, dancing to live music, and watching brilliant firework displays which ring out across the city.

But this June, for the first time in recent memory, Cambridge will be dark, and quiet. This morning, the Presidents’ Committee, consisting of the heads of every major May Week event, published a statement confirming that no events will take place in June and they must all be cancelled or postponed, due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The decision to cancel the balls comes three days after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the government would not support gatherings of over 50 people for the foreseeable future. This policy is in an effort to curb the infection rate of the novel coronavirus, a highly infectious disease which has killed over 100 people in the UK, as of yesterday afternoon.

Students who have already bought tickets can expect to hear more details about the refund policies of individual May Balls in the coming weeks. They were told to “please refrain from emailing your ticketing officers unless urgent” in the meantime.

“All Committees are working within different constraints and time-frames and are working as fast as they can.”

“We would like to thank you all for bearing with us through this uncertain time”, the statement added.

“These cancellations come as a blow to all Committees and College officials that have worked hard to make these events happen. We very much look forward to celebrating with you at events in the years to come.”

Students at Wolfson May Ball in 2018Louis Ashworth

Experts on Covid-19 emphasise the importance of ‘social distancing’ – avoiding non-essential contact as much as possible, not crowding in groups of more than ten, and maintaining a distance of six feet with others. A person with the coronavirus who isn’t yet showing any symptoms can still pass the virus on to anyone they come into contact with, posing a particular threat to older and more vulnerable populations.


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The cancellations are difficult for the student organisers, some of whom started planning the event almost two years ago, with committees of over a dozen other students. A single ticket to either of the priciest May Balls — Trinity and John’s — racks up to over £200, and are highly sought after.

Trinity, St. John’s, Christ’s, Pembroke, Jesus, Wolfson, Robinson, Hughes Hall, St Catharine’s, St Edmund’s, and Homerton were all scheduled to have May Balls in June, while Emmanuel, Sidney Sussex, Trinity Hall, and Caius had June Events planned. King’s College’s annual May Week event, King’s Affair, and the annual Murray Edwards Garden Party, also take place. Newnham cancelled its June Event on Saturday, but this was put down to ticket sales.

The UK government has not yet given any timeline for when social gatherings over 50 will again be allowed, but it is likely not to be for many months, as the UK heads into the ‘fast growth’ phase of the curve of the infection.

On Monday, organisers announced that the annual Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race had been cancelled: the first time in history for the women’s race, and the first time since the end of World War II that the men’s race would not go ahead.

Stay up to date with Varsity’s live coverage of the coronavirus outbreak in Cambridge on our live blog.