Healthcare worker fined for using niece's TraceTogether to check into malls, library while on leave of absence
SINGAPORE: A patient service associate at the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI) used her niece's TraceTogether token to check into malls and a library while on a leave of absence.
That was in April last year, when COVID-19 cases were reported in Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) where NNI is located. The cluster would eventually grow to 48 cases, with three deaths.
Priscilla Tan Siew Sin, 34, had been traced as a contact of a doctor who contracted COVID-19. She did not test positive for the coronavirus.
Tan was fined S$10,000 on Monday (Apr 25) after pleading guilty to one count of fraud by making a false representation. Two more charges were considered for sentencing.
On Apr 28, 2021, the Ministry of Health announced that a nurse working in Ward 9D of TTSH had tested positive for COVID-19.
The next day, Tan's reporting officer was informed that a doctor in NNI had also tested positive.
Internal contact tracing showed that Tan was one of the doctor's clinic assistants on Apr 23, 2021. She underwent a COVID-19 swab test, was placed on a leave of absence and advised to stay home.
The court heard that a leave of absence meant that Tan was to remain in her home as much as possible and minimise social contact.
She was still allowed to leave her home for daily necessities or to attend to important matters, but was to minimise the time she spent in public places.
On Apr 30, 2021, Tan wanted to go outside to buy food.
"However, as her swab test results were not yet out, she was afraid that she would get into more trouble if she was found to have COVID-19 but had left her residence," stated court documents.
She was also afraid that "if there was someone with COVID-19 at the place that she was planning on going to, she would be contact-traced and get into trouble for leaving the house".
Tan therefore asked her 12-year-old niece if she could use her TraceTogether token, and the girl agreed.
Tan left her house and walked to The Poiz Centre, checking in using her niece's TraceTogether token at around 7.50pm.
She repeated this two more times on May 2 that year, visiting library@esplanade before going to Marina Square.
On Sep 3, 2021, Tan's reporting officer filed a police report that she had checked into The Poiz Centre with another person's token.
This was after an internal disciplinary board advised the matter be reported to the police.
UNDERMINED CONTACT TRACING EFFORTS
Deputy Public Prosecutor Wu Yu Jie sought a fine of at least S$10,000, calling Tan's actions irresponsible.
He argued that she took the risk of exposing others to COVID-19 while knowing there was a possibility that she had contracted the illness.
Tan's actions significantly undermined contact tracing efforts implemented to keep the population safe, added the prosecutor.
"The integrity of the data collected for the purposes of contact tracing must be maintained. False entries and assumed identities can hinder contact tracing efforts," said Mr Wu.
Defence lawyer Joyce Khoo sought a fine of no more than S$5,000.
She contented that the need to deter other potential offenders was lower given recent changes to step down the use of SafeEntry and TraceTogether from Tuesday.
However, District Judge Ronald Gwee rejected this argument, saying: "Tomorrow being the easing of measures does not necessarily mean the end of the situation as we know it.
"Authorities have warned that at any time should there be a variant that comes in, certain measures have to be reversed. I don't see that as a mitigating factor at all."
Ms Khoo pointed out that Tan would have been allowed to go out to buy food if she had used her own TraceTogether token, calling her decision to use her niece's token a "foolish mistake".
The lawyer also argued that Tan did not spend more time than required to buy her food, spending only a few minutes in Marina Square.
When Judge Gwee pointed out that Tan was not allowed to visit the library then, Ms Khoo said that she made the decision on the spot rather than leaving her house with the intention to do so, and spent less than 15 minutes there.
In response, the prosecutor said that Tan was "not entirely innocent" as she still had the intention to circumvent contact tracing if she turned out to be a positive case or if she was traced to another positive case.
Delivering his sentence, Judge Gwee said the court had to take the COVID-19 situation at the time of the offence as the background to Tan's actions.
"We should not be lulled into a situation where we forget that we have to be vigilant against this virus," he said.