Thursday, May 28, 2020

Richard Hennessy, originally from Castledermot, lives in Singapore, where he works as an educational psychologist. He’s also a founding member of the WhatsApp Singapore Gaeltacht group (44 members and growing!). He lives with his partner Paul and here he looks at how the local people have coped with the Covid-19 outbreak

Richard Hennessy right with his partner paul Gallagher in pre covid days

UNFORESEEN opportunities and happenstance brought us to the city state of Singapore in 2019 and it has been a happy, fruitful and enriching experience. This little island country of 5.6 million people is an exciting, outward-looking, ethnically diverse place with amazing choice in terms of food and cultural activities. Only fully independent from the British since 1963, Singapore developed from being a third- to first-world economy in a few decades due to strong leadership, careful investment in infrastructure, industriousness and attracting inward investment.

Singapore learned the devastating effects of coronaviruses when it was hit by SARS in 2003, with more than 200 cases and 33 deaths. So when SARS-CoV-2 arrived from China early this year, the Singapore government wasted no time in taking action to try to contain its spread: hygiene measures, testing and contact tracing worked in limiting community spread. However, the virus infiltrated large purpose-built dormitories for foreign migrant workers and spread like wildfire, requiring ‘circuit breaker’ measures similar to the lockdowns in Europe. These began at the beginning of April and are set to continue until early June at least. However, some easing of restrictions is due to begin in May.

I work as an educational psychologist in a local practice, and my partner (an Offaly man) is a professor at the National University of Singapore. We’re working from home and the first month it has been bearable. The food of many nationalities is available on apps for delivery and year-round temperatures in the 30s mean we can walk and exercise in our locality, enjoying the balmy sunshine. We cannot socialise, but local and ex-pat friends get around the restrictions by organising Zoom social nights and WhatsApp quarantine groups. I’m a founding member of the WhatsApp Singapore Gaeltacht group (44 members and growing). We practise our cúpla focal and even have the odd recitation or amhrán.

I’m also in regular touch with a cocooned Mammy Hennessy in Castledermot via Facetime. I can see that she’s coping well and in good health and she can see how we are doing.

Singaporeans remain resilient, resourceful and stoic with the restrictions. Compliance rates are very high. Singapore deliberately maintains extensive national reserves of cash on which to draw in times of crisis. So now, employers of locals unable to work from home are receiving government support to continue to pay them. When the restrictions are lifted, the economy is well placed to recover quickly unencumbered by debt. This saving for a rainy day is something I find very impressive, having lived through at least three recessions at home, where we had little put aside and many suffered as a consequence

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