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Couple from China convicted of obstructing COVID-19 contact tracing in Singapore

Couple from China convicted of obstructing COVID-19 contact tracing in Singapore

Hu Jun and his wife Shi Sha seen on Feb 28, 2020. (Photos: Hanidah Amin, Marcus Mark Ramos)

SINGAPORE: After a trial that spanned more than a year, a man from Wuhan and his wife were on Tuesday (Oct 26) convicted of withholding information from COVID-19 contact tracers.

China national Hu Jun, 40, tested positive for COVID-19 in January last year, nine days after arriving in Singapore from Wuhan to spend Chinese New Year with his family. The Chinese city was then the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak. 

He did not tell a health officer that he had travelled to various places while infectious, including hotels, a restaurant and the Chinese embassy.

For the offence, he was found guilty of one count under the Infectious Diseases Act of deliberately withholding information from contact tracers about his whereabouts and activities.

His wife, 36-year-old Shi Sha, was convicted of four charges for withholding information, giving false information and failing to respond fully and truthfully to a health officer.

In his defence, Hu said he did not give certain information to health officials as he was either unaware they wanted that information, could not recall the names of the places he visited or did not have enough time to respond.

He had travelled to Singapore a few times before but those were brief visits to tourist spots and he was unfamiliar with the country, he said.

On Jan 29, 2020, Hu went to Singapore General Hospital with his wife, after feeling dizzy and warm. He was also starting to cough.

Hu testified that he felt "unusually cold" and used multiple blankets in the ward, but later told the prosecutor upon cross-examination that it was likely he only had the flu.

"Until today I'm not too sure if I'm a confirmed case (of COVID-19)," he said, claiming that no one told him so while he was in hospital.

Hu's wife, Shi, testified during her turn on the stand that she found it difficult to communicate with the contact tracer, claiming she could almost confirm that Mandarin was not the woman's mother tongue.

It was like a chicken talking to a duck, she said.

Shi said she was worried about medical bills as she did not know that the Singapore Government covered the cost of COVID-19 treatment at the time, and that people "around the world" have been reprimanding her and her husband after seeing the news.

"In these almost two years, we could not see our relatives or family, cannot see our children. Every day and night I have been remembering and recalling these details because I do not know - for going to the hospital on our own accord, treating every call from MOH seriously, I do not know what I have done wrong, therefore I have been thinking over these details," she testified at trial.

LAST ARGUMENTS BY DEFENCE AND PROSECUTOR

Deputy Public Prosecutor Timotheus Koh on Tuesday urged the court to convict Hu and Shi, saying the evidence from the contact tracers should be accepted.

He asked the court to reject any arguments by the defence about miscommunication or misunderstandings, pointing to a statement that he said "evinces collusion between the accused persons".

He added that it was stated clearly that the accused discussed what to tell the Ministry of Health, in order to protect their privacy.

"Contrast with the defence's case - they have shown themselves to be inconsistent and dishonest," said Mr Koh, citing examples for both Hu and Shi. In one instance, Hu claimed that the contact tracer had asked him "too narrow" questions and not open-ended ones, but later conceded when cross-examined that the tracer can indeed pose open-ended questions.

Defence lawyer Steven John Lam said instead that there were "clearly doubts in the prosecution's case".

He said it was not enough for the prosecution to show mere negligence on the part of his clients, and that "it must go to a situation where I have literally just closed my eyes, I take a 'for all I care' attitude" before the threshold could be crossed.

He added that the prosecution never addressed what the incentive was for Shi to hide information.

District Judge Ng Peng Hong said: "I've gone through these written submissions, and with the greatest respect to Mr Lam, I see no good reason why I cannot believe the evidence of the prosecution witnesses."

He found that the prosecution had established its case beyond reasonable doubt and convicted Hu and Shi of all charges against them. He adjourned the case to November for mitigation and sentencing.

Shi and Hu face penalties of up to six months' jail, a maximum S$10,000 fine or both, for each charge under the Infectious Diseases Act.

Source: CNA/ll(gs)

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