Coronavirus pandemic

Local space technopreneur unsure how he caught virus

S'porean returned on March 7 from London event but showed no symptoms until March 13

Mr Simon Gwozdz, 29, the founder of local tech start-up Equatorial Space Industries, in his isolation room at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital on Friday. He has been warded there since Monday. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SIMON GWOZDZ
Mr Simon Gwozdz, 29, the founder of local tech start-up Equatorial Space Industries, in his isolation room at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital on Friday. He has been warded there since Monday. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SIMON GWOZDZ

When Singaporean Simon Gwozdz attended a conference in London earlier this month, he did not expect to bring home more than just business cards.

The 29-year-old space technopreneur tested positive for Covid-19 last Tuesday, becoming the country's Case 271. He has since been warded at the Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.

"Considering the tight schedule, I didn't really hang around many touristy areas, and focused on the task at hand. Little did I know I was going to bring back much more than the business cards of the new contacts I made, and cause a fair share of troubles back home," the Polish-born Mr Gwozdz, who moved here with his parents when he was 15, told The Sunday Times.

"It might have been a moment of inattention, such as not washing my hands thoroughly, or something completely out of my control, like someone sneezing on the Tube right before I boarded. I guess I'll never know for sure, which only illustrates how insidious this infection can be."

The founder of local tech start-up Equatorial Space Industries, which develops rockets to send satellites into orbit, was in London from March 4 to 6. Back then, the coronavirus outbreak was not as serious, he recalled. "People would essentially just go about their day, and descend upon pubs at night."

He showed no symptoms when he was overseas and passed through the usual airport checks upon his return here on March 7. He went straight to work that day and continued doing so throughout the week.

He started displaying symptoms only on March 13.

"It was very mild, really - runny nose, sore throat and some muscle aches. It felt a lot like a light flu, but when it didn't go away, I started to get worried," said Mr Gwozdz, who lives alone.

He had no fever but decided to get tested at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital last Monday.

"When I declared my travel history and symptoms, I was immediately taken in for a swab test."

Subsequent test results confirmed the infection last Tuesday.

 
 
 

All of his 15 staff have been quarantined. So far, none of them has tested positive for the virus.

Equatorial Space, which was founded in 2017, was supposed to run its first test flight in Malaysia but that has since been grounded, after his staff were quarantined and travel restrictions there kicked in.

"It wasn't easy for us and our Malaysian partners to organise a rocket test launch properly, and we were quite excited to get airborne for the first time," he said.

"Ultimately, safety comes first."

His parents, who now live abroad, were worried at first until he explained that his symptoms were mild. "I'm feeling much better and, honestly, quite strong," he noted. "That said, my recent swab test just came back positive, which only goes to show how sneaky this virus is."

His isolation room, which he finds "spacious", has a bed, television set, desk and bathroom. Even though he is isolated, he does not feel alone.

Besides bingeing on Netflix shows and working remotely from his laptop, he also keeps in touch with his family and staff.

 
 
 

He finds the hospital food, such as chee cheong fun for breakfast, acceptable, but added that he is looking forward to a good meal after his discharge - including having a McSpicy burger.

Although he has kept those he recently met updated on his condition, he expressed regret over the inconvenience brought on them.

But he pointed out that "the enemy is the virus, not any one of us".

The recent National University of Singapore graduate, who pursued a project and facilities management degree after serving his national service as a transport operator, said he was mentally prepared for isolation when he first showed symptoms.

"At first, there was a time of slight denial at how this can't possibly be the virus. For now, I am just keeping myself in high spirits," he said, urging others to stay calm. "Together, we can bring this pandemic to an end and get back to normality."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 22, 2020, with the headline 'Local space technopreneur unsure how he caught virus'. Subscribe