When the pandemic is over, Nikita McHugh will remember the months she spent inside.
The 27-year-old, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, is an unofficial expert of hard lockdown.
But unlike most, they’ve done three lockdowns across two continents with a two-week spell of quarantine thrown in for good measure.
Their friends call them the Queen of Quarantine.
“I’ve been in a house since March. I’ve decided I’ve become a real homebody,” they told The New Daily.
They joke hard lockdowns have followed them around the globe.
Nikita moved to Amsterdam right before the pandemic hit. Life was normal. They planned to settle in the Netherlands for a year.
They had just moved into an apartment on the 9th Streets district — the ultra-hip De Negen Straatjes district — and was in the process of organising a working holiday visa.
“One thing I’ve noticed with the pandemic: just how quickly everything can change, so overnight we got told cases were getting alarming in the Netherlands and there would be a lockdown imposed.”
Initially, the Netherlands lockdown was loose.
Gatherings were still allowed – and at a party, two women from the UK told Nikita they were going back to England.
“It wasn’t something I thought I could consider. I was 26-hours and a very expensive flight from home.”
But just like COVID-19, things moved fast. Within days, Amsterdam tightened restrictions. There were no fines, but people were told to social distance, and visiting friends was off the cards.
Back home, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison was telling expatriate Australians to return. The world was changing, and quickly.
“I booked a flight for one week later. Within that time frame, most international air hubs for Australian flights closed and were preventing Australians from transiting through,” they recalled.
Their first flight got cancelled. Australia closed its border. Case numbers in Amsterdam were rising. Panic set in.
“The moment I couldn’t get home was the moment I really knew I needed to,” they said.
Nikita got on a flight going through Indonesia and escaped their first lockdown.
“I had never seen airports so empty. Amsterdam is one of the busiest in Europe. There was no one there, all domestic flights had been cancelled.”
The plane was virtually empty. The airport deserted.
There was an underlying tension that one of their flights would be cancelled or the transiting airport would close to Australians.
“You constantly heard that most of the cases were from people coming from hot spots or travelling, so the idea I was at risk was stressful but I knew I had to get home.”
In hindsight, the scariest thing was the lack of masks.
“No-one was wearing one.”
Nikita went straight into quarantine. Missing the mandatory hotel rule by 24-hours, they spent two weeks in a room at their parents’ home in Sydney.
“My mum made and cooked all my meals for me but they were served on plastic – knives and forks and were immediately disposed of.
“When I wanted to get fresh air, we had paper towels on the door handles. I wasn’t allowed to touch the handrail.”
“Even though I was around people it was isolating not being able to hug my mum.”
They went straight out of quarantine and into Sydney’s lockdown.
“So not a lot changed. But I was able to cook again, I was able to have close contact with my parents, I was able to leave the house and I think that was one of the biggest joys.”
Sydney started to open up, and for a brief time Nikita went and saw friends, dined out, had a month of almost normal life.
Then they decided to move to Melbourne.
“When I landed in Victoria, my phone had all these notifications from news outlets, Dan Andrews had just announced that Melbourne would be going into stage 3,” they said.
“I don’t know if it’s a curse or a blessing that I always make it in at the last hour. I keep making it just before all the intense measures come in.”
Nikita moved into a large share-house. They didn’t know any of their housemates but settled in quickly – they had no other option.
Their lockdown world tour has given them a unique glance into how different countries manage the pandemic.
“I’ve been in some form of lockdown for most of this year. It’s alarming to see how quickly it can spread and how many lives we lose.
“As tough as it’s been I think we need to listen to the health advice.”
They started this year hoping to move to the other side of the world.
Three lockdowns later, they’ve spent most of the year inside different share houses and learnt a lot about managing mental health.
“Everyone needs to look out for their mental health. I’ve increased my psychology appointments and accessed the free sessions offered to us,” Nikita said.
“I’ve been cooking a lot which I find therapeutic and doing morning workouts.”