When Australia closed its borders to non-citizen arrivals from China on February 1, the lives of tens of thousands of international students studying here were turned upside down. Here are five of their stories.

SHARON, 23, Beijing

At the beginning of 2020 China entered a long winter. An epidemic plunged our people into a restless silence - first a city, then our whole country.

I was in Beijing on a vocational internship when news of the coronavirus first arrived on my mobile phone. After finishing my last day's work before the Spring Festival break, I prepared to return to my home city of Tangshan in Hebei province, to celebrate the most important occasion of the year with my family. I had bought my train tickets very early, but the day before I left news came that the number of cases was rising exponentially. For safety reasons I returned my tickets and drove home.

Our happy festival dinner ended with an urgent phone call – the first positive case of the virus had appeared in our city.

I did eventually get to my family home, and the epidemic didn't cut our enthusiasm for the Spring Festival. On Chinese New Year's Eve, January 24, my family sat together sharing dumplings, but our happy festival dinner ended with an urgent phone call – the first positive case of the virus had appeared in our city, more than 1200 kms from the epicentre of Wuhan. My father was required at his office immediately to investigate all people who may have come into contact with the infected person in the past 14 days, as well as public places the person had visited including supermarkets, schools and hospitals.

Before long we received a notice issued by the government to remind people who had been near a confirmed case to isolate themselves at home for 14 days. If they have a fever, they should go to the hospital immediately. This is the first time I could intuitively feel coronavirus around me.

Then, almost all the communities in the city were closed by order of the government. No one was allowed to enter or leave the community except with valid identity documents. People living in the community needed to check their temperature at the entrance to their community and register their destination every time they left and returned home. Overnight, everyone was trapped in their own homes, voluntarily or by order. The streets were empty and almost all the shops closed.

The streets were quiet, but everyone was involved in a fight against the coronavirus in their own way. I told myself no winter is insurmountable.

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KAYLANA, 23, Beijing

I heard from Chinese friends on social media of a new SARS-like illness spreading in Wuhan. When I told my parents about it they didn't seem to take much notice – most older people in China are less trusting about information from the internet. Unfortunately at the time my father was on business in Wuhan. He got back to Beijing just one day before the city went into lockdown, and then had to self-isolate by order of the Beijing local government.

Almost every community in China formed a residents' leaders group for controlling the circulation of people in their area.

As the outbreak worsened one noticeable thing was the increase in grassroots power. Almost every community in China formed a residents' leaders group for controlling the circulation of people in their area. The advantage of this is people can use their enthusiasm and their sense of responsibility to organise the community, and that can be efficient.

My family remained in isolation and could only order food on the Takeaway app. Sometimes though the app didn't work, so we'd go out quickly to get the necessaries of life. During this period I spent almost all of my time searching for news and reading books to calm my nerves. I believed this time was a golden opportunity to re-read the works of the great novelist Albert Camus, including The Plague. The viewpoint of the book still applies in contemporary society about the lives of people in an epidemic. In the book Camus says "there is no true goodness or love without the greatest possible degree of clear-sightedness".

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VICKY, 21, Janjing

I heard from Chinese friends on social media of a new SARS-like illness spreading in Wuhan. When I told my parents about it they didn't seem to take much notice – most older people in China are less trusting about information from the internet. Unfortunately at the time my father was on business in Wuhan. He got back to Beijing just one day before the city went into lockdown, and then had to self-isolate by order of the Beijing local government.

Because it was boring to be cooped up at home I became a contractor via the internet to help build health facilities.

"Vulcan Mountain", Wuhan's first square-cabin hospital, was completed in just 10 days. I think it's amazing to finish the work in such a few days. Netizens also gave nicknames to trucks, cranes and excavators. One cement truck became known as "White Rabbit", after a much-loved toffee brand in China. A yellow excavator was called "Little Yellow" - a nickname used by Chinese people for puppies. A cute excavator - it's fun, isn't it?

OMG!! I'm going mouldy lying at home!! The coronavirus must end soon!! Let me go back to Sydney!!

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CHARRIOT, 23, Shanghai

"Thank you for your fever." That was the first sentence spoken to me on arrival in Thailand. I'm not sure if the airport officer really intended to say "Thank you for your warmth", in response to our cooperation, or if he was saying what he really meant. Whatever the case, I was grateful just to be admitted to the country, because it meant my return plan to Australia was halfway to success.

I was grateful just to be admitted to the country.

On my first attempt to leave Shanghai for Sydney for my studies my flight was cancelled a few hours before departure when the Australian government changed its policy. But I eventually got on a flight to Bangkok to quarantine for two weeks to get to Australia. When the soles of my feet kissed the land that is always visited by sunlight, I was surprised to find the number of Chinese students already there. I even found an "Australian Group of Eight" in my Bangkok hotel. The sound of our favourite music reverberated down the corridors.

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NATE, 23, Guiyang

After a Chinese specialist announced that coronavirus could spread from person-to-person, everyone was in a panic. I went out to buy face-masks and disinfectant but every store was sold out. So I needed to stay at home, didn't go out into public and cancelled all unnecessary gatherings. Two days later the transport hub of Wuhan announced a lockdown of the entire city. This was the day before Chinese New Year on January 25. It's the biggest annual event in China, but due to the virus people had to stay at home.

I managed to join my family and on New Year's Eve we had a family dinner and watched the Spring Festival Gala on TV. The show included a poetry recital in praise of the doctors and nurses working in the hospitals in Wuhan.

My mother and I had quarrels. We didn't get used to each other's habits.

After that we just stayed at home and bought food online. I watched movies and TV and played video games. Life was different. I spent a lot of time with my family, especially my mother, and sometimes we had quarrels. Probably this was because we have different daily routines. I like to stay up late and chat with my friends via apps. She likes to watch TV, read and go to bed early. We didn't get used to each other's habits.

In early February I heard that students who had been outside China for 14 consecutive days were still being allowed to enter Australia. Thailand was the best option because it issues a visa on arrival. I flew to Thailand with friends on the 9th, we stayed in hotels for 14 days, and I finally arrived back to Sydney on the 25th, happy to be able to resume my studies.

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Last Wednesday, the lockdown of Wuhan, original epicentre of the virus, was "officially" lifted, and, after 76 days, people were allowed to leave the city. However, for locals, it is still far from over, with schools and entertainment venues remaining closed and movement within the city greatly restricted. No winter is insurmountable but spring may yet be some way off.

* From work by five UNSW international postgraduate media students, collated and edited by course convenor Larry Buttrose. Names have been changed.

** Podcast by Danielle Armour and Riahn Mulcahy, from audio via Blackboard Collaborate.