Lots of support and good food: Life under quarantine in Australia

quarantine in Australia
A day time view of Howard Springs. Source: Shuk Fai Law

“Don’t worry about life in isolation” is international student Xiujuan Xu’s message to incoming international students who will quarantine in Australia under upcoming pilot schemes. The Chinese national is among the 63 international students from a pilot programme with Charles Darwin University (CDU) to welcome the first batch of international students to Australia since the country closed its borders in March to non-citizens and non-residents. Xu arrived in Darwin on Nov. 30, 2020 and is quarantining at the Howard Springs facility for two weeks. 

This pilot scheme, which saw students from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia fly to Darwin from Singapore via a charter flight, is the first successful attempt after months of planning. According to CDU, during the quarantine, students can expect to have access to 24-hour counselling, receive care packages and daily phone calls from CDU staff to ensure students have the necessary support. While other states and jurisdictions are under pressure to submit their plan for international student arrivals for 2021, CDU is planning more charter flights to bring international students back to Australia, with Indians scheduled to be next on the list.

quarantine in Australia

What’s it like to quarantine in Australia? Comfortable, according to Xu. Source: Xiujuan Xu

Xu is currently pursuing two postgraduate courses at CDU. The 32-year-old was pursuing a Master of Teaching at CDU when COVID-19 struck. Due to the pandemic, she was unable to return to campus in February to complete her internship. Instead, she took the opportunity to enrol in another course, Master of Education (Global Learning), which she could learn remotely.

“I remember the first phone call I received from CDU about this programme was in August, and I was very excited when I was told that I could return to Darwin at the end of October,” Xu told Study International via email. While the pilot programme was eventually postponed to the end of November, Xu said the entire process was “not very hard” as CDU assisted students every step of the way. This included help with documentation and with useful FAQ sessions that covered topics relating to health, safety, security, packing checklist, essential forms and quarantine facility. Students were also required to complete COVID-19 tests before their departure.

What’s it like to quarantine in Australia?

quarantine in Australia

A night view of Howard Springs. Source: Shuk Fai Law

Xu described her quarantine experience as comfortable as CDU does all the necessary arrangements and preparations for incoming students. Quarantined students are free from dealing with the first-world problem of what to eat — they’re given three square meals per day while their rooms cover basic necessities; students have a desk, a bed, a bathroom as well as a small balcony. The solitude has also given her time to focus on her work.

“Every morning, I will exercise on the balcony. After breakfast, I will participate in the online activities arranged by our university. Sometimes I will do my work. I chat with my neighbours from the balcony in the afternoon. I can also watch a movie or browse the web in the evening. I made this return journey and quarantine experience into a short video; they will be my fond memories,” she said.

quarantine in Australia

The outside view of Law’s temporary residence. Source: Shuk Fai Law

Students also have the option to engage in virtual coffee sessions with students and staff from the university’s International Student Support Team. They can leave their rooms twice a day for 20 minutes each time, so long as they wear a face mask and practice social distancing. 

Another international student, Shuk Fai Law from Hong Kong, was elated to be among the first batch of students to return to Australia. She had been looking forward to studying in Darwin since July when she started the first semester of her Master in Teaching (Primary) programme. “When I decided to join the pilot programme, CDU provided me with very clear instructions via email on what to prepare, step-by-step,” she said, adding that there were various forms that had to be completed in advance. The entire process, from checking-in at Hong Kong International Airport until her arrival at the Howard Springs quarantine facility, went smoothly.

quarantine in Australia

Law in her room. Source: Shuk Fai Law

“I enjoy life at Howard Springs! It is more like a vacation than being in quarantine. The facility provided us with delicious meals regularly every day, and the staff are really helpful and friendly. We can meet other students from our balconies and go for short walks to breathe some fresh air and enjoy the sunshine in Darwin. Additionally, CDU has arranged many online sessions for us to join, such as yoga classes, dance classes, coffee time and academic workshops,” she said. Students also received a welcome package, which includes daily necessities, toys and games for entertainment.

To pass the time, Law is preparing for her upcoming semester, doing some research about getting a driving license in Darwin, keeping in touch with her family and friends in Hong Kong, exercising with the yoga mat provided by her university and even painting. There’s also an International Student Support Team to assist international students, be it academic support, counselling service to career and employment-related support. 

quarantine in Australia

A day in the life of a quarantined student. Source: Shuk Fai Law

The overarching message from Xu and Law to other incoming international students who will quarantine in Australia is not to worry.

“To those who would like to join the next batch, don’t worry, you will feel relaxed when staying at Howard Springs. I am looking forward to seeing more international students coming to Darwin soon,” said Law. Echoing her is Xu who said, “Don’t worry too much about safety, as long as you follow the arrangements, wear [a] facial mask and pay attention to social distancing, you will be fine.”