Over the past week or so, hundreds of Singaporeans have been pouring in from abroad, trying to get home before the coronavirus outbreak worsens internationally. Due to Singapore’s relative success in containing the virus, many prefer being here in the comfort of their homes and with their families.
However, some have decided not to return, mostly because they have made new lives for themselves in new places. Some of them are now based in Italy, the country that has been hit the hardest by the coronavirus outbreak. At the time of writing this, there are about 70,000 infected cases and 7,000 deaths in the country of about 60 million.
A few months ago, Singapore was one of the countries with the most cases outside of China. At the time, Singaporeans living in Italy worried for their families here, and tried to keep up to date with local news and developments. But everything changed when the country they were living in went into a complete lockdown, and their anxieties concerning relatives shifted to worries for their close family and friends around them.
To find out what life has been like in a country under lockdown, and where we have seen mayors screaming at citizens to stay indoors, we spoke to 3 Singaporeans living in Italy.
I am a 30 year old writer and animal rights activist, and I moved to Torino in Italy with my husband a few years ago. At first, moving here was a bit difficult because of the language, but I have been going to school and my Italian has been getting better.
Before the virus hit, I was enjoying the daily routine I have here. I volunteer for a rat and mouse rescue organisation, and when I’m home I work on my writing projects. I am also studying on the side. On weekends, I travel about an hour out to Alba, where my in-laws live, and there we also volunteer at an animal sanctuary.
I remember when the virus started to spread in Singapore, I was worried for my parents. But I also know the government can handle it, so I wasn’t panicking. Slowly, it switched to my family calling me more as the outbreak exploded here. My initial worry wasn’t so much about getting infected, but about facing racism. Luckily, the only encounter I had with that was with some kids who lifted up their shirt to cover their face when I walked by. They were just being stupid.
I also noticed one man in one of the vegan Facebook groups I am in posting mean things about what Asians eat, and about animal markets and so on. I was so upset, so I called him out and said that he couldn’t just generalise all Asians like that. I was happy to see that the group kicked him out. That was quite reassuring to see, as although there are people saying bad things, there are still others who will stand up for you.
At the time, the virus was spreading but the country was not on lockdown yet. As the numbers kept increasing, I became afraid I would catch it in public. If I heard people coughing on the bus I would be worried. It got worse and worse, and you could feel the fear around.
Panic spread when videos of empty supermarkets started circulating. I remember one video that really got me, which was of an old man saying he hadn’t seen anything like that since World War II, which was worrying.
Soon after, the country was put on a complete lockdown. The people who wanted to continue going out to support the bars and restaurants became more sensible at that point, and the police had to start charging people for violating isolation rules.
I actually couldn’t even leave the house for groceries in the first two weeks of the lockdown, because I was put in quarantine after returning from visiting my in-laws. I initially thought that as soon as the quarantine was over I would go back to volunteering at the animal shelter—because they still need to eat. But now, I have decided not to, because public transportation has been reduced. My other colleagues with cars will go feed the animals instead. They need to carry declaration papers with them when they leave the home though, because the police are stopping people.
I’ve heard some people say that the warmer summer months will cause a drop in the virus, but I tell them I am from Singapore, and if it spreads there when it’s 30 degrees on a good day, then summer here won’t stop it.
Since we don’t know when this will end, I think one of the most important things is finding a daily routine, despite not being able to leave the house. In the morning I work out, then have breakfast. After that I do some studying and cross-stitch. Because my husband works from home, we time our breaks so we can play computer games at the same time.
In the afternoon, we try to take part in the balcony flash mobs that have been happening around Italy. In some areas, there were people going out singing sopranos. In my neighbourhood, we would all go out at the same time everyday for an applause for healthcare workers. These only last between 5 and 10 minutes, but they are really good for keeping our spirits up. On some other days, people will play different types of music from their balconies. Then in the evenings, we watch a lot of Netflix.
So for now, I just keep pushing through. My dad texts me every day with the developments in Singapore, and I tell him about the situation here. They are worried for me, but I reassure them because on a personal level, it’s not chaos here.
I moved to Italy about 7 months ago to further pursue my studies at Ca Foscari University in Venice. I was really enjoying life here—visiting a lot of museums, galleries, festivals, and going on more road trips than when I lived in Singapore.
When the virus started spreading, Singapore was one of the first countries to be hit outside of China. I would keep tabs on the news, and I was glad to read that citizens and permanent residents were able to receive free hospitalisation and treatment.
Now, the situation has gotten really bad in Italy, and I am about a month and a half into the isolation period now—as far as I can remember, as the days are starting to melt together. It all began with university closures, which we were told would reopen at the beginning of March. That didn’t happen, and now, classes are uploaded onto e-learning platforms. We are not sure when universities will open again.
I remember being called paranoid when I said that I thought the government should impose isolation earlier, and with stricter means. In that moment I learned to appreciate the differences between my home and host countries I live in.
For me, life has gone on as per usual, although it is a lot more quiet in my village. Where I live, we didn’t get the balcony scenes, but I saw a lot of videos and I would say they are a good testament to the Italians’ musical ability and community spirit.
My days go by between studying and reading the news, and I try to switch it up by sipping tea or eating my meals out on my balcony. I try to stay up to date with both international and local news, even if some of the comments I have seen from locals back at home are disheartening.
Many netizens are very critical of those who chose to return home, as they are automatically deemed to be the cause of rising “imported” cases. I have also seen some really mean spirited comments throwing shade at other countries and nationalities. If you take a cursory glance at the news page of Mothership, CNA and ST, you’ll easily get a feel of the situation—especially in the comments.
It is a rather worrying situation for my family at home though, because they are split between Singapore and Malaysia. My parents can’t visit my grandmother in Malaysia now, which is concerning, but also understandable in light of the situation.
Between the time zone differences and information available, I often feel like I can’t do much from where I am. The best I can do is call and message more often.
I moved to Genova last September because my husband got a job here, and we have a two year old daughter, Elisa. Recently, I had put her in a nursery, which has been really good because it made her fluent in Italian and she met some local friends. One silver lining about this lockdown is that she has been hearing me speak Mandarin, which I think will be good for her to learn.
As for me, I am still learning Italian. I was doing it in a place that offers free classes—which is a great thing about Italy, it’s very easy to find free language classes. But those have had to stop now because of the virus. The university which my husband is working for is quickly turning to online classes as well and all kinds of students are studying from home.
It’s so strange to think of my life right before the lockdown, because we were doing a lot of social events. The exact day before the lockdown, I was out for dinner with my friends. I did limit the exposure Elisa had with her schoolmates starting a few weeks before, however. Me and another mom made sure our kids were only playing with each other, so they could still have a social life without going out and potentially bringing back infections. That lasted a while, but now no one visits each other anymore.
Throughout all of this I do think about my family in Singapore. And although I am worried, I know Singapore is well organised. We have been through SARS, which has made us more efficient in dealing with such an issue. My mom actually had surgery the day before the DORSCON alert switched to orange, which I was worried about. But she told me everyone was being very strict in the hospitals with temperature checks and so on, which reassured me. Here, temperature checks weren’t as widespread and they weren’t doing them in schools for example, which I thought was concerning.
But now that schools have all closed, many parents are posed with a major struggle. It’s not an issue for me because I work from home, and Elisa’s grandparents can come and take care of her. But some other friends of mine had to scramble to find a babysitter. A friend of mine is using her entire salary this month on child care. It’s a huge burden.
As for now, we’re not really sure when this lockdown will end. We have been told to strictly stay at home now, so we only go out for groceries. I’m happy I at least managed to bring Elisa out for one last gelato before the intense lockdown.
It’s so strange. I live in the historic centre, so I used to see a lot of tourists and students around, but now the streets are completely empty.
When we do go out, we carry around a form that says where we live and why we are out. If we are in a different suburb from where we live, we may get questioned or fined by the police. One day, when walks were still allowed, my husband brought my daughter out to the park. They got yelled at by the police and sent home straight away.
Cooking, Netflix and playing with my daughter are what fills my days now. On Sunday’s we do virtual pizza nights with our friends, where we all bake our own food. I think that has become pretty common in Genova because the last time I went to the grocery store on a Sunday, the shop assistant told me they ran out of eggs and flour because everyone was baking something.
But apart from that time, one of the things that struck me was that there was no panic buying here. At least in Genova. When the lockdown started, I was so sure it was going to happen. But they had some systems in place to ensure it didn’t. For example, you need to queue up outside supermarkets, they only let in a few people at a time and they make sure no one is hoarding.
I think this will be a good experience for children, since they are gaining a lot from being at home with their parents, even though Elisa has been asking about school, her teachers and her classmates. As per couples, I think next year we will be seeing a lot more babies or divorces.
Are you living abroad and living under a lockdown now? Tell us your experience at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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