SINGAPORE: A foreign worker who tried to leave Singapore despite being told to wait for his COVID-19 test results at a hospital later breached an order to be isolated in his dormitory.
Indian national Balachandran Parthiban, 26, was jailed for nine months on Monday (Jul 12). His case was the first prosecution involving a person with COVID-19 who breached an isolation order.
Parthiban pleaded guilty to one count each of exposing others to the risk of COVID-19 infection and of breaching his isolation order. Another two charges were considered in sentencing.
His lawyers told the court that Parthiban suffered from adjustment disorder and was experiencing "cabin fever" while being in a foreign land with no psychological support.
The court heard that Parthiban lived in Jurong Penjuru Dormitory 1. He was in Singapore on an employment pass.
On the morning of May 23 last year, Parthiban reported sick at his dormitory with a fever and sore throat. He suspected he was infected with COVID-19, as he recognised the symptoms and knew other dormitory residents who had tested positive for the coronavirus.
He was taken to Singapore General Hospital (SGH) where he was swabbed, then transferred to a fever screening area at the hospital's multi-storey car park to wait for his results. He was told not to leave until the results were out, and he acknowledged the nurses' instructions.
However, he left the car park without informing anyone. His swab test results showed he was a COVID-19 case.
Parthiban walked several blocks, took a bus and later a taxi to Changi Airport Terminal 1. He tried to buy a flight ticket to India but was unsuccessful and loitered at the terminal for about four hours until police officers found him and escorted him back to the hospital.
The taxi driver he had come into close contact with was issued a home quarantine order for 14 days and could not work during that time, but did not contract COVID-19.
Parthiban was quarantined and later discharged from SGH on Jun 8, 2020. He was taken to his dormitory to serve a 14-day leave of absence or isolation.
He knew he was not allowed to leave the dormitory, but did so on Jun 16, 2020. This was because he knew that there were many dormitory residents who tested positive for COVID-19, the court heard.
At about 5.50am, Parthiban packed two bags and his passport and took a taxi to the airport. He tried to buy a ticket to India but was told he could not.
He slept at the airport that night and went to his relative's Tampines home the next morning. He told his relative what happened, and the latter called his supervisor.
The police showed up and escorted Parthiban back to his dormitory again at about noon on Jun 17, 2020.
MOST EGREGIOUS OFFENCE: PROSECUTOR
Deputy Public Prosecutor Norman Yew asked for 10 months' jail, saying that this was not just the first prosecution of its kind for breaching an isolation order, but also the most egregious offence of exposing others to the risk of infection as he was a confirmed COVID-19 case.
Parthiban exposed the public to a real risk of infection for about five hours in the first instance and 30 hours in the second, said Mr Yew.
Lawyers Cory Wong and Josephus Tan of Invictus Law asked instead for six-and-a-half months' jail. Mr Wong pointed to an Institute of Mental Health report that said Parthiban had adjustment disorder.
While the disorder did not affect his ability to differentiate right from wrong, Mr Wong asked the court for compassion as Parthiban was suffering from cabin fever while "stranded in a foreign land with next to no financial or psychological support".
For each charge under the Infectious Diseases Act, Parthiban could have been jailed up to six months, fined up to S$10,000, or both.