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Teen admits lying he had COVID-19 as a prank; his NSF friend was sent home from Pulau Tekong and isolated

SINGAPORE: A teenager pulled a prank on his friends by posting on Instagram that he had contracted the "new COVID-19 variant" and was going to die. 

Siew Hanlong, 19, pleaded guilty on Tuesday (Nov 2) to two counts of knowingly transmitting a false message under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act.

The court heard that Siew was a student at the time of the offences in May this year. At about 1am on May 23, he decided to pull a prank on his friends.

He searched online for a positive PCR test and saved it to his phone. He then posted it on Instagram Stories with the caption: "Guys I got the new COVID variant bye I'm gonna die."

He also posted an image of himself in a hospital bed, with the caption: "In ICU right now farewell guys."

Siew was at home and had not tested positive for COVID-19. The photo of him in hospital was from a previous admission for an unrelated incident.

About 15 minutes after making the posts, Siew deleted them but the images had already been seen by others online. 

Siew's acquaintance, a full-time national serviceman, woke up on Pulau Tekong at about 4.45am and saw his friends discussing Siew's Instagram Stories in their WhatsApp group chat.

The NSF was concerned that he could have contracted COVID-19 from Siew, as he had met him before May 23. He tried to contact Siew but could not, so he informed his superiors that he was a close contact of a COVID-19 case, forwarding them Siew's Instagram Stories.

He was told to pack his belongings, take a swab test and go home. After he left Pulau Tekong, a disinfection of his bunk was conducted, and the training schedule was disrupted for the day. The NSF went home and isolated himself in his room.

At 11.15am that day, Siew replied to his NSF friend that his Instagram Stories had been a joke, and the latter relayed the information to his father and his army superiors before lodging a police report.

The prosecutor did not object to the calling of a probation suitability report for Siew. The judge told Siew that although it was a prank, it had very serious consequences. Siew said he was sorry for that and would not do such a thing again.

His mother urged the judge to consider that her son had a "bright future" ahead of him and is very remorseful. She asked for a chance for her son, saying he was still studying for a diploma and is a "very sensible boy" who works part time.

The judge called for a probation suitability report and adjourned sentencing to December.

The penalty for knowingly transmitting a false message is a jail term of up to three years, a fine of up to S$10,000, or both.

Source: CNA/ll


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