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Chinese couple accused of omitting trips from contact tracers paid for S$7 journey with S$100 note, says Grab driver

Chinese couple accused of omitting trips from contact tracers paid for S$7 journey with S$100 note, says Grab driver

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

SINGAPORE: A Chinese couple who are accused of withholding information from COVID-19 contact tracers had paid for a S$7 journey with a S$100 note, testified a Grab driver on Wednesday (Aug 19) during a trial against the couple. 

Wuhan native Hu Jun, 38, is on trial with his 36-year-old wife Shi Sha for obstructing the work of contact tracers, who were trying to trace his steps after he tested positive for COVID-19 in January. 

The trip that the Grab driver had taken them on was among several trips they are accused of omitting in their accounts to health officials.

Grab driver Tan Teng Sun took the stand on Wednesday, the third day of the trial, and said via a Mandarin interpreter that he has been a private-hire driver for about four years, working seven days a week.

His car was listed in Shi's travel records, which were produced by Grab after contact tracers made a request for them via the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

Records showed that he picked Shi up around lunchtime on Jan 22 from Shi's home at Loft @ Nathan near the Orchard Road area. He then drove her and her husband to the Mercure Singapore on Stevens hotel in Stevens Road.

Shi told contact tracers that she had gone directly home with Hu after he landed in Singapore that day. Another witness said he had come for Chinese New Year, and more of Shi's family members were expected to arrive for the festivities.

GRAB DRIVER VERY SURE HE HAD MADE THE TRIP

When questioned by Deputy Public Prosecutor Timotheus Koh, Mr Tan said he was "very sure" that he made this trip, and identified the accused as the passengers in his car that day.

Asked why he was so sure, Mr Tan said: "On that day ... the journey was very short, it was for S$7 ... and it was paid in cash, therefore it left a deep impression on me."

"When they got (in) the car, (I noticed) they were from overseas, from China, and it was a short distance. They paid me S$100 and I had to give them the change of S$93, and that is very rare, because most of the customers would go cashless," he said, adding that they had paid with a S$100 note.

Asked how he knew the couple was from China, Mr Tan said: "During the journey, they were conversing, and from their accent, I could tell they are from China, because from many years of experience driving Grab, I could distinguish their accent, that it's not a local accent."

Responding to defence lawyer Dhanwant Singh's cross-examination, Mr Tan said he was served with a three-day quarantine order by the health ministry 11 days after the trip on Jan 22.

Hu was confirmed to have COVID-19 on Jan 31, and calls were made to Hu and his wife Shi by separate contact tracers to determine where they had gone and who they had been in contact with before he was hospitalised.

READ: Wife of COVID-19 patient gave information on whereabouts contrary to Grab records, contact tracer testifies

According to a previous witness, Ministry of Health (MOH) contact tracer Georgina Lim, Shi said that she and her husband had taken a cab home on Jan 22 after he arrived in Singapore and stayed home.

Hu went out only on Jan 24 for a walk by himself, she told Ms Lim. The next trip they took was from their home to Singapore General Hospital on Jan 29 by hailing a blue cab.

However, when contact tracers tried to identify the cab driver, they could not find any corresponding cabs fitting that description at the time and location provided.

BULK OF CHARGES BASED ON GRAB RECORDS

The officers later obtained Shi's Grab records via LTA, which showed a series of trips that neither she nor her husband had told health officials about. 

These form a bulk of the charges the couple face. Hu is contesting one charge under the Infectious Diseases Act of deliberately withholding information about his whereabouts and activities. 

His wife faces four charges under the same act for withholding information, giving false information and failing to respond fully and truthfully to a health officer.

Other than what they had told the health officers, Hu and Shi are accused of travelling to Long Beach Seafood in Stevens Road around lunchtime on Jan 22, before going to Marina One Residences at about 3.40pm that same day.

On Jan 24, they allegedly travelled to the Chinese embassy in Tanglin Road, before going to Ngee Ann City and the InterContinental Hotel at night.

On Jan 28, they are accused of travelling to Studio M Hotel. Grab records show that Shi booked a Grab vehicle from this hotel to the hospital where her husband was eventually warded. This runs contrary to her alleged claim that they had flagged down a blue cab from their Nathan Road home to the hospital.

SHI'S FRIEND TAKES THE STAND

Earlier on Wednesday, a woman who had lunch with the couple and another family at Long Beach Seafood on Jan 22 took the stand for the prosecution.

Property agent Sun Qian told the court that they had eaten at the restaurant before proceeding to a condominium for a property viewing in two separate cars - Ms Sun's car and a Grab vehicle that Shi booked.

She told the court that she had received a call from a person claiming to be from MOH, but she assumed it was a scam as they had asked for her personal details. The man called her at about 9pm to 10pm, which she found suspicious as it was "so late".

She flagged this possible scam to her friends, including Shi. It is not known whether this person was a real MOH officer.

Shi's lawyer mentioned previously that his client had wondered if the calls made to her by official MOH contact tracers could be scams.

During the defence's cross-examination, Mr Singh highlighted that the court interpreter had misheard what Ms Sun had told her in Mandarin. 

Ms Sun said she had "driven a car" but the interpreter interpreted this as she had "rented" a car. Mr Singh earlier said that some of the meanings his client had intended were lost in translation as the Mandarin spoken in China differs from the Mandarin spoken in Singapore.

The trial continues for the rest of the week. If convicted of the offences, both husband and wife face penalties of up to six months' jail, a maximum S$10,000 fine or both, for each charge.

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Source: CNA/ll(mi)

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