Based in Hong Kong, Fermanagh man Finbarr Bermingham (pictured right) has been living through the coronavirus outbreak since January. Now two months on, after following strict precautions, the region is starting to see some hope.

“Hong Kong is actually fine,” said Finbarr explaining that they had their first cases of coronavirus in January. “When everything kicked off in China, Hong Kong people were very vigilant and everybody was kicking into emergency mode. Everybody was washing their hands fervently, they were wearing face masks everywhere to avoid touching their faces and they were avoiding being in close proximity to somebody who may have been infected.”

Speaking to The Impartial Reporter on Friday (March 13) Finbarr commented that despite having had the coronavirus for two months, Hong Kong only has around 134 cases. “That’s largely because of the community effort to contain it.”

Finbarr explained that he believes Hong Kong is more wary and vigilant of the coronavirus because it experienced a SARS outbreak in 2003, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people: “I would say it’s a germophobic culture but it’s actually worked out quite well in this instance because it means that people are generally prepared for something like this whereas I feel like elsewhere in the world, where maybe they don’t have those scars from previous sorts of illnesses and viruses, they perhaps aren’t prepared to deal with it.”

Talking about his personal experiences of going into lockdown, Finbarr shared: “I work for the National newspaper in Hong Kong and we were working from home, the whole place, I mean there’s 1,000 people and the vast majority of them were working from home for about three to four weeks and we just started coming in for the last couple of weeks because it seems to have been quite well contained.”

“So we have actually seen how it evolves in a society and we’re definitely not out of the woods yet here but it seems as though we are in a much better position than elsewhere in the world. Where Ireland is now, we were there in January, we started seeing these cases, worrying about it and reading the news and so on but you guys are two months behind us in how you are looking at this,” he added.

Although Finbarr is back working at his office, precautions are still being taken: “I work in a skyscraper and when you go in, there is a lady with a temperature gun who takes your temperature and they have these checks everywhere, we have to walk on a doormat with disinfectant before we go into the office, we have to wash our hands with alcohol before we go to our desks, it’s a very vigilant process.”

When asked how he thinks the UK and Ireland could learn from Hong Kong in their approach to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, Finbarr said: “I have to be perfectly honest, I think it’s really bad that people are only reacting now. This has been going on for two months elsewhere in the world.”

He continued: “The thing is, a virus like this doesn’t respect borders, it’s something that can be easily transmitted to elsewhere in the world, all you need is somebody who is infected to go to a different part of the world and pass it on to somebody else.”

“So I mean the governments in the UK and Ireland should have been prepared, they should have been preparing their medical staff, they should have stockpiles of medical equipment, there should be stockpiles of testing equipment but from what I can see there has been not that much effort and it seems now that the governments are on the backfoot,” Finbarr added.

He explained that during the early days of the coronavirus in Hong Kong, every event in the city was cancelled and that schools have been out since January.

“Everybody should realise at least at this point that you need to be as good at personal hygiene as you possibly can, washing your hands in the way that you see in those diagrams, it’s not just a quick wash you’d have done in the past, it’s a proper good 20/30 seconds. You should be wiping down surfaces, you should be cleaning your phone at regular intervals because your phone is everywhere, in this day and age phones follow people wherever they go so you should be sanitising that as much as possible so. If nothing else, individuals can start doing that but I think the governments have been way behind in how they have faced this. It’s actually been really frustrating to see it unfold. The lessons that could have been learnt from Hong Kong, and perhaps China, are maybe too late now, they should already have been put into practice,” said Finbarr.