Jail for couple who lied to Covid-19 contact tracers

They lied about their whereabouts and activities

A woman who repeatedly hindered a health officer from carrying out her duties amid the Covid-19 outbreak by withholding information and giving false information was sentenced to six months' jail yesterday.

Shi Sha, 38, had earlier been convicted of four charges under the Infectious Diseases Act.

Yesterday, her husband, Hu Jun, 40, was sentenced to five months' jail after being convicted of a charge under the Act. He had deliberately withheld information from another health officer.

Following a joint trial, District Judge Ng Peng Hong convicted the Chinese nationals on Oct 26.

They were the first two people to be charged under the Act in relation to the current pandemic.

Shi was living in Singapore when her husband flew here from Wuhan, which was the epicentre of Covid-19 at the time.

In an earlier statement, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said Hu arrived in Singapore on Jan 22 last year, and was confirmed to be infected with Covid-19 nine days later. He recovered and was discharged from hospital on Feb 19. Shi was identified as his close contact and issued a quarantine order on Feb 1 after MOH initiated contact tracing to identify those who may have been exposed to him.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Timotheus Koh said in his submissions that the couple had lied to contact tracers about their whereabouts and activities in Singapore between Jan 22 and 29 last year to protect their privacy. Between Jan 22 and 28, Hu had travelled to Long Beach @ Stevens restaurant in Stevens Road and Ngee Ann City shopping centre in Orchard Road, among other places.

Senior public health officer Georgina Lim earlier testified in court that Shi had told her she was in isolation at home with her husband. But Land Transport Authority records showed Shi had booked rides from private-hire car service Grab to several locations - including Ngee Ann City - in late January, said Ms Lim.

DPP Koh also said the couple had claimed they did not lie to the contact tracers. "According to them, they knew that they had to cooperate with MOH's contact tracing efforts and, indeed, were doing their level best to provide complete and accurate information to MOH," he added.

They had also claimed the charges against them arose from misunderstandings due to a language barrier and the contact tracers rushing through the process or asking questions that were too specific or not open-ended. The couple were represented by lawyers Steven John Lam and Fiona Oon.

Taking the stand in July this year, Shi told the court she had difficulty communicating with the contact tracer, and that their conversation in Mandarin was like a chicken talking to a duck.

Yesterday, DPP Koh urged the court to sentence Shi to eight months' jail and her husband to a shorter term of five months. He told Judge Ng this was a "high culpability, high severity" case and the couple were willing to "place their personal interests at the forefront".

The defence team asked for Shi to be fined $20,000 and Hu's fine to be set at $10,000. Mr Lam said his clients "generally had good character" and that Hu had got himself isolated after displaying symptoms of Covid-19. He added that Shi had done likewise as she had been her spouse's close contact.

The couple were offered bail of $15,000 each as they intend to appeal against their convictions and sentences.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2021, with the headline 'Jail for couple who lied to Covid-19 contact tracers'. Subscribe