Man admits he removed mask to cough at Sheng Siong crowd controller, prosecutor seeks 2 months' jail

Man admits he removed mask to cough at Sheng Siong crowd controller, prosecutor seeks 2 months' jail

State Courts 07
File photo of the State Courts in Singapore (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: Irked by a crowd controller while he was withdrawing cash from an ATM machine outside a supermarket, a man removed his mask and intentionally coughed at her.

Tan Shiaw Wee, 47, pleaded guilty on Tuesday (Jul 28) to one charge of using abusive behaviour against the victim by coughing at her and a second charge of removing his mask to cough at her.

A third charge of using criminal force by spraying hand sanitiser at the victim will be taken into consideration for sentencing.

For his crimes, the prosecution is seeking two months' jail, a term that the judge noted would be the highest meted out so far for the specific offence of breaching COVID-19 regulations by removing his mask. 

The court heard that Tan went to an ATM machine outside the Sheng Siong supermarket at Block 451 Bukit Batok West Avenue 6 on the morning of Apr 22 to withdraw money.

The victim, 52-year-old Ng Poh Wei, was working at the outlet as a crowd controller and temperature taker.

While Tan was withdrawing the money, Ms Ng partially removed her mask for two seconds to wipe sweat off her face.

Noticing this, Tan scolded her for doing so, before picking up a nearby hand sanitiser spray provided for public use and spraying it multiple times at Ms Ng.

Ms Ng walked away and took a woman's temperature, before telling her that she would take a photo of Tan and report the matter to the police.

Tan overheard this and walked back towards Ms Ng. He removed his mask and intentionally coughed at her before leaving the scene. Ms Ng felt the cough and became alarmed, fearing that she might be infected with COVID-19 as a result.

A supervisor at Sheng Siong reported the matter, which was caught on closed-circuit television cameras and played in court on Tuesday.

A DEGREE OF MALICE: PROSECUTOR

Deputy Public Prosecutor Norman Yew asked for two months' jail, saying that frontline workers in Singapore's fight against COVID-19 should be assured of their protection.

"There is a degree of malice in the accused coughing at the victim. In fact, it can be said to be an act of revenge," said Mr Yew, adding that the alarm felt by the victim must have been equivalent to a serious health scare. 

"This is not an ordinary cough. This is a cough deliberately made at the victim during the 'circuit breaker', when alarms and fears over COVID-19 and one's physical wellbeing were high," he said. "Let us not forget that COVID-19 can be fatal and is highly infectious, so the victim's alarm must have been significant."

He noted that Tan did not have COVID-19, and acknowledged that he had pleaded guilty, but said his offences had been captured clearly by CCTV cameras.

The third charge taken into consideration also involved repeated spraying of hand sanitiser on the victim, acts that Mr Yew called "degrading".

"Such an act implied that she was somehow dirty, or filled with germs or COVID-19 itself," he said.

Tan, who was not represented, told the court that the victim had used her fingers to lift the sides of her mask while she was standing below the air-conditioning vents and Tan was withdrawing money.

"SHE'S TRYING TO SPREAD GERMS TO ME": TAN

"I told her I don't need to take temperature. I was very uneasy that people were looking at me. She insist on staring at me and she put her finger ... under to blow the air," he said. "She's trying to spread the germs to me under the aircon."

District Judge Christopher Goh asked him why he had to do what he did over something that seems "so minor".

"I'm very agitated," said Tan. "I got agitated then I was looking at her, thinking why she was staring at me, then I started to draw my money. I was very agitated that she was using the airflow to spread germs to me, that's why I used the sanitiser to spray her."

He added that he had returned to spray her again because "someone encouraged her to report me".

"So to me is - you spray to me, I spray to her," he said. "If you (want to) report, you just go ahead and report, you don't have to agitate me."

The judge said he needed some time to think about the sentence and adjourned the case to Aug 31.

For intentionally causing alarm, Tan could be jailed for up to six months, fined up to S$5,000, or both. For breaching a COVID-19 regulation by removing his mask without reasonable excuse, he could be jailed for up to six months, fined up to S$10,000, or both.

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Source: CNA/ll(nc)

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