Belfast native Callie Cook discusses living in Australia during a pandemic

Fri, 04/17/2020 - 11:30am

    SYDNEY, Australia — The last time Penobscot Bay Pilot wrote about Callie Cook, a 20-year-old Belfast native living in Australia to study the art of wine-making, she was tapping into her Midcoast roots in early January to raise money for Australians affected by the fires that swept through parts of the country. 

    Cook, who spent her high school years at Islesboro Central School and Tilton School in New Hampshire, is still living in Australia and talked about, over email, how she has seen the COVID-19 pandemic impact Australia, and herself. 

    “The response in my area has been similar to international responses,” she said. 

    As some in the United States did, Australians initially underestimated the severity of COVID-19, Cook noted, despite warnings from the Australian government. 

    “Before everything shut down completely the government’s warnings didn’t deter people from going out to crowded places like bars or the beach which led to some major breakouts,” Cook said. “Subsequently, tighter restrictions were put in place. Now there’s an increased police presence and the threat of large fines or jail time for defying the law.” 

    The spirits of Australians, Cook said, are likely dampened considering lives were vastly altered before the pandemic due to the Australian fires only a few months ago.

    “After already having a short summer due to the environmental effects of a devastating bushfire season, Aussies are particularly devastated to have their outdoor activities limited again,” said Cook. “To be fair it may be easier to bunker down at home in the middle of a snowstorm up in Maine than resisting the temptation of an 80-degree beach day here in [Australia].”

    Despite once again being forced to alter their lives, Australians have, generally, grown to understand their responsibility to stay home, Cook said, “even if it means missing out on the surf.” 

    According to Worldometer, Australia has recorded slightly more than 6,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases and only 65 deaths, which Cook attributed to how Australia’s government has responded to the pandemic. 

    “[Australia’s containment] is partly due to Australia creating testing facilities more rapidly and effectively than the States have, which has allowed more people per capita to be tested here,” Cook said. “The country also closed state borders relatively quickly which has played a role in slowing the spread.”

    Indeed, an April 9 article from The Guardian said: “the early decision, and the capability, to enforce a total lockdown of borders has proven crucial, buying valuable time to prepare, and allowing [Australia and nearby New Zealand] to flatten the trajectory of their Covid-19 infection curves.” 

    The article also highlighted Australia’s “highly developed public health system, and a government sufficiently solvent to be able to turn on the tap of public monies to get its population through the months of lockdown” as a reason for its low number of confirmed cases. 

    Like millions of students across the United States, Cook has been affected educationally by the pandemic with her wine tasting course’s final exam being postponed indefinitely since part of the exam’s grade includes a tasting component.  

    As a foreigner in a new land, Cook’s aspirations to explore Australia have become murkier because of the pandemic. 

    “My visa expires in November but I hope the government will provide extensions for these exceptional circumstances,” she said. “If not I’ll be pretty disappointed to spend the majority of my one year here unable to go out with friends or travel to other parts of the country. But of course, I want to recognize my privilege and acknowledge how insignificant my issues are compared to everything happening in the world right now.” 

    The pandemic has also altered the timeline for some of Cook’s other life plans, forcing her to simply live day by day amid these uncertain, and historic, times. 

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