SINGAPORE: Nine students were fined between S$2,500 and S$4,500 on Wednesday (Jun 3) for breaching COVID-19 regulations by gathering at a rented apartment to have tea, study or chat.
They were caught after an unidentified person called the police about "an altercation" at the 34A Kim Keat Road apartment.
Three of the students who were fined were tenants at the apartment. They are Indian nationals Navdeep Singh, 20, Sajandeep Singh, 21 and Avinash Kaur, 27.
Navdeep and Sajandeep were given the highest fines of S$4,500 for each inviting three people to the apartment.
Their guests were each given fines of S$2,500. They are Indian nationals: Arpit Kumar, 27; Karmjit Singh, 20; Mohammed Imran Pasha, 26; Sharma Lukesh, 21; Vijay Kumar, 20; and Waseem Akram, 33.
Avinash was fined S$3,500 for inviting one guest. Her guest's case is pending.
17 PEOPLE IN AN APARTMENT
The court heard that the incident occurred on May 5, during the "circuit breaker" period when it was illegal to have guests at one's household, or to meet other people for social purposes.
When the police responded to the call about the altercation at about 12.50pm, they found 17 people inside the apartment.
Six people - including the three accused tenants - were registered tenants of the unit.
One person was a sub-tenant who claimed to live there and three others said they were guests who had stayed over since May 4 after being evicted from their own lodging.
The police found some of them sleeping in the living room.
The remaining seven people were guests of the accused who visited that day.
Investigations revealed that the first tenant, Navdeep, had invited Waseem, Imran and Arpit over on the morning of May 5 to talk and have tea. They arrived between 9am and 9.15am and went to Navdeep's room to talk.
Waseem and Imran went to the kitchen later that morning to use their computers for an online lecture, before returning to Navdeep's room.
The second tenant, Sajandeep, invited Vijay, Karmjit and Sharma to the unit for various purposes.
Vijay was to study with Sajandeep, discuss their school assignment and attend an online lecture together, while Karmjit and Sharma went to collect items to send back to India on Sajandeep's behalf. They stayed and waited for Sajandeep to finish his online lecture.
The third tenant, Avinash, invited her friend, 23-year-old Indian national Bhullar Jasteena, over to study.
Navdeep and Sajandeep pleaded guilty to one charge each of breaking a COVID-19 regulation by inviting another person to their unit for a non-exempted reason, with two other charges taken into consideration.
Avinash pleaded guilty to one charge of inviting a guest over to the unit. The guests each pleaded guilty to a charge of meeting others for a social purpose.
APARTMENT OBVIOUSLY OVERCROWDED: PROSECUTOR
Deputy Public Prosecutor Stephanie Koh asked for the fines that were eventually meted out, noting that the unit was "obviously overcrowded".
"This is by no means a small number and in fact far exceeds the proper living capacity of the three-bedroom unit, which was only legally tenanted to six persons and already had people sleeping in the living room," she said.
She said the offences magnified the potential for COVID-19 to spread within the unit and to the rest of the community.
"The guests each spent between one to four hours in the unit which is a lengthy period of time," said Ms Koh. Moreover, their visits did not have an agreed end-time and would likely have continued had the police not gone to the unit."
She said the accused met "for a frivolous and completely unnecessary purpose in blatant disregard of the social distancing measures that the rest of society has taken pains to comply with".
The hosts committed more severe breaches than the guests as they instigated the visits, with Navdeep and Sajandeep most culpable as they had three guests each.
District Judge Bala Reddy said that what could and could not be done in Singapore during the circuit breaker had already been widely publicised.
The students were not represented and each gave their own mitigation, mostly saying that they had taken loans to study in Singapore and could not afford hefty fines.
Sajandeep said he took a loan of 300,000 Indian rupees (S$5,560) to study in Singapore and had a clean record.
"Please give me a chance, I am very remorseful for what I have done," he said through an interpreter. "I came to study so that I could brighten my future."
Some of them, including Avinash, said they came from poor families in India.
For each charge of breaking COVID-19 regulations, they could have been jailed for up to six months, fined up to S$10,000, or both.
Avinash's guest Bhullar Jasteena will return to court for a pre-trial conference later this week.