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Student who returned from UK testifies she did not know she had to go home immediately for stay-home notice

Student who returned from UK testifies she did not know she had to go home immediately for stay-home notice

Esther Tan Ling Ying arriving at the State Courts on Mar 9, 2021. (Photo: Calvin Oh)

SINGAPORE: A student on trial for exposing others to the risk of COVID-19 by failing to comply with her stay-home notice after arriving from the United Kingdom told the court on Wednesday (Mar 10) that she did not know she had to go home immediately.

Esther Tan Ling Ying, 24, was studying for a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Acting in the United Kingdom. She returned to Singapore on Mar 23, 2020, shortly after Singapore implemented a stay-home regime to curb the spread of COVID-19.

She allegedly had a meal with her parents at Orchis Food Court at Terminal 1 of the airport, before going to Clementi Family and Aesthetic Clinic to get medicine for her runny nose.

She tested positive for the disease a few days after her arrival.

Tan is contesting a single charge under the Infectious Diseases Act of exposing others to the risk of COVID-19 infection.

After touching down at Changi Airport, she was briefed by an Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officer, who testified that he told her to head home immediately.

However, Tan testified that he did not tell her this, and that there was no indication in her stay-home notice document that she had to do so. She said in court that, based on what her friends had told her, she thought the stay-home order began the next day.

She later settled on the position that she thought the order would begin the same day that she returned to Singapore, but only after she reached home.

Cross-examining her on the stand, Deputy Public Prosecutor Sanjiv Vaswani asked Tan why she had written in a statement to the authorities that she was aware when she was given the stay-home notice that she had to return home immediately.

"As I said earlier, I was very scared and my judgment was clouded," said Tan.

Mr Vaswani put it to her that the information that she had to head home immediately must have come from the ICA officer, seeing as it was not in the stay-home notice document and that the officer had testified to telling her.

Tan disagreed. She is also accused of lying about her travel history when she visited the clinic. The prosecutor accused her of knowing she had flu symptoms, but she said she thought it was her long-standing sinus issues acting up.

She admitted lying to the doctor about when she had returned to Singapore, but maintained that her reason for going to the clinic was to get medicine for her sinus issue.

Mr Vaswani asked Tan why she did not get nasal sprays from the pharmacy or ask the representative assigned to oversee her needs during the stay-home notice period to get the required medication.

Tan said nasal sprays would not work due to the severity of her sinus condition, and that it did not occur to her that the representative could help her get medication.

PROSECUTOR PLAYS CLIP OF HER "COUGHING" WITH MASK LOWERED

Under her lawyer's questioning in the morning, Tan had said there was no requirement for her to wear a mask on the plane, but she chose to wear one until she returned to her home in Singapore.

Mr Vaswani played a closed-circuit television footage clip in court of her going to the clinic in Clementi. She was shown entering the clinic with a mask on her face, but her nose was exposed.

Tan was shown sitting down and using her phone, and pulling the mask below her mouth before coughing twice.

When Mr Vaswani asked Tan if she had coughed in the video, she said: "I cannot tell if I was coughing."

However, she agreed that she had potentially exposed others to the risk of infection by lowering her mask at the clinic.

Mr Vaswani then showed her a cautioned statement she had given to the police, where she wrote: "My family was anxious and terrified for me to visit the clinic as soon as I landed, as they were afraid for me (that I would) get the disease as well. I wanted to get medication from the doctor as I was afraid my flu would not have recovered ... And I did not want to increase the risk by spreading it to my parents."

Tan acknowledged writing this, but maintained that her judgment was clouded and that she was not thinking clearly.

She said she was "under a lot of pressure" from the investigating officer when she filled in her statement, and insisted that she did not have the flu and was instead suffering from sinus issues.

"Ms Tan, as a chronic sufferer of allergic rhinitis, you should know it cannot be spread from person to person," said Mr Vaswani.

"I do not know that," she answered.

Mr Vaswani put it to her that she made up this excuse to avoid blame, but Tan disagreed. He said the doctor had testified a day earlier to diagnosing her with upper respiratory tract infection and not allergic rhinitis, but Tan said she did not know what that was.

She reiterated that her judgment was clouded and she was not thinking clearly when giving her various statements, as she had been in the hospital for about a month for COVID-19 treatment while dealing with her studies at the same time.

WAS THE VIRUS SUFFERING JET LAG? PROSECUTOR ASKS

"Ms Tan, you stated that you had flu-like symptoms when you were in the UK prior to returning. You were served a SHN that explained that you were to stay home as a precautionary measure," said Mr Vaswani. 

"It is our evidence that you had respiratory symptoms when you presented at the doctor. In addition, we have heard evidence from (the doctor) that you told her that several other students at your university as well as a teacher who had returned from Spain had caught COVID-19."

Tan disagreed, saying she did not know why the doctor said that.

"Your lawyer did not challenge this aspect of (the doctor's) evidence," continued Mr Vaswani.

He put to Tan that she clearly had reason to believe she had contracted COVID-19 by the time she returned to Singapore, but she disagreed.

"You claim you were told by ICA that you have to be home for 14 days. This morning you said - it is logical that the SHN starts the next day," said Mr Vaswani.

"Ms Tan, what kind of logic is that, that if we are trying to prevent a pandemic, but allow people to roam and only stay home the next day? There is no logic in that. Do you agree?"

"I agree," answered Tan.

"Your assertion that you were under the impression that the SHN starts the next day, and your logic, is completely erroneous," said Mr Vaswani. "Were you under the impression that the virus was also suffering some form of jet lag and would only wake up the next day?"

Tan disagreed. After her defence lawyer Tan Cheng Kiong re-examined her, she said she had not suspected that she had COVID-19, because she had been isolated and "there were no COVID cases in my school".

She said none of her schoolmates had contracted COVID-19, and there were "no teachers that came back from Spain".

The trial continues on Friday. The defence originally had one more witness scheduled on Wednesday, but the person had returned to the United Kingdom. Arrangements are under way to see if the person can testify via video-call.

If convicted of exposing others to the risk of infection of COVID-19, Tan could be jailed up to six months, fined up to S$10,000, or both. 

Source: CNA/ll

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