I felt I could not live on anymore: Wuhan man positive for COVID-19 accused of keeping info from contact tracers testifies
SINGAPORE: A man from Wuhan, China, the original epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak, testified in court on Wednesday (Jan 27) that he felt unnaturally cold when warded in Singapore for the disease and thought he could not live on anymore.
Hu Jun, 39, is contesting a charge under the Infectious Diseases Act of deliberately withholding information about his whereabouts and activities from contact tracers.
He tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan 31 last year after arriving nine days earlier to spend Chinese New Year with his family and wife, 37-year-old Shi Sha, a China national who lives in Singapore.
He is accused of not telling a health officer that he had travelled to various places while infectious - including hotels, a restaurant and the Chinese embassy.
Taking the stand for the first time at the opening of the defence's case, Hu said he did not give certain information to health officials as he was either unaware they sought that information, could not recall the names of the places he visited or did not have enough time to respond.
He was answering questions from lawyer Steven John Lam from Templars Law, his third defence lawyer since court proceedings began.
Hu, an investment consultant, testified through a Mandarin interpreter that he came to Singapore on a travel visa, arriving on the morning of Jan 22 last year. This is his fifth time visiting the country.
He came mainly to visit his family comprising of his wife, their two daughters and his parents. He and his wife had enrolled their elder daughter, who was nine at the time of the alleged offences, in an international school after visiting Singapore to scout for schools.
Hu's parents then came to Singapore to look after the children, staying in an apartment in Loft @ Nathan in the Tanglin area.
Hu's previous visits were brief, ranging from a day to a week, and centred around tourist spots such as the zoo or Sentosa, which meant that he was not familiar with the country, the court heard.
Around December 2019, there were messages being passed around in China that there was a "strange kind of disease" with no name or clear definition, said Hu.
"At that time, people only knew that it seems like the disease came from a seafood market, and it was linked to a kind of animal - a bat."
He said that there was panic in Wuhan before he came to Singapore, and added that he also began stocking up on masks and sanitiser. When he touched down at Changi Airport, all passengers including Hu went through a channel that measured their temperature.
No alarm was raised and his temperature was normal, said Hu. He saw his wife at the arrival hall with seven strangers who, he later learned, were her friends from Wuhan who were on the same flight.
Shi hailed a minibus and sent their friends home before going to their apartment in Nathan Road. When Hu arrived at the apartment, his father told him to change out of his clothes and have them cleaned and disinfected along with the luggage, because he flew in from Wuhan.
After Hu had some food and a nap, his wife Shi woke him up saying that she wanted him to accompany her to lunch with a friend, who was part of the group at the airport.
She hailed a vehicle and they went for lunch at a restaurant. Hu said he did not know which restaurant it was, as he merely followed his wife, but now knows - after his appointment at his first lawyer's office - that it was Long Beach Seafood @ Stevens in Stevens Road.
THEIR TRIPS AROUND SINGAPORE
At his wife's requests, Hu went on several other trips between Jan 22 and Jan 24 last year, viewing property, travelling to Ngee Ann City for shopping and visiting the Chinese embassy to run some errands.
He felt fine throughout and stayed in a neighbour's unit, after the neighbour offered to let them have the apartment while they were away for Chinese New Year.
On the morning of Jan 28, 2020, Hu and Shi checked into Studio M Hotel as they had to return the neighbour's apartment and wanted to have some "private time".
When the staff members at the hotel realised he was from Wuhan, they took his temperature twice and told him there would be twice-daily readings of his temperature.
His temperature was normal until the morning of Jan 29, 2020, when he woke up and started to cough. Initially, he felt it was nothing much as he would often cough due to his smoking habit, but when Shi felt his forehead she said it was warm.
Hu began feeling dizzy after a shower and thought that he could possibly have contracted the virus. Shi searched for information on the virus on her phone and found that Singapore is able to do a COVID-19 test with results returned within hours.
After learning that Singapore General Hospital (SGH) provided the test, Hu said he weighed the potentially high medical costs against the safety of those "dearest" to him.
"My children, my parents, they will all have been in contact with me, so to me the cost is one thing, but more important is the safety of a life, and if really I was infected, I would be able to protect more people if I go for the test," Hu said.
Shi booked a vehicle that took them from the hotel to SGH. At this time, Hu said he knew that back in China, the authorities had placed Wuhan on lockdown and strict measures were taken to prevent the spread of the virus, but said he did not know of any workflow with regards to contact tracing in Singapore.
THEY HEADED TO SGH TO TAKE A TEST
On the way to the hospital, Hu said he and his wife were both deeply worried that if he had the virus, there could be danger not only to his life but those he had been in contact with.
They queued up at the hospital where there were a lot of patients at the emergency department, and told the doctor on duty that he was giddy and unwell.
The doctor said his temperature was above 38 degrees Celsius and asked for his documents. When Shi passed him Hu's passport, the doctor looked at the first page and asked if he came from Wuhan.
When Hu replied affirmatively, another medical employee took him away. His wife became emotional and agitated, and tried to find out where he was being taken to.
She asked a hospital staff member to do a COVID-19 test on her if her husband was found to be infected, as she had been with him for the past few days.
Hu was placed on a bed and a scan of his lungs proved normal. He slept after taking some medicine and giving a blood sample, and was taken to an isolation ward with two layers of glass doors.
It was unusually cold inside, said Hu. He put on a set of patient's clothing on top of his existing clothes, and draped a blanket over himself, but it did not help.
When he texted his wife to tell her this, she asked him to inform the nurse to bring more blankets. The nurse brought three more blankets, but he still felt cold.
I COULD NOT TAKE IT ANYMORE: HU JUN
"My hands and legs kept shivering uncontrollably," testified Hu. "I told my wife I was feeling so cold that I could not take it anymore. I felt distressed, I felt that I could not live on anymore."
His wife was helpless, sobbing and very worried, he added.
Hu said this was his first hospital admission.
"At the same time, I was faced with the COVID pandemic, which was to me and the whole world very sudden," he said.
When a doctor at SGH asked him about his movements, Hu said his wife had earlier called for a car when he arrived on Jan 22, 2020, using the words "jiao che".
However, Dr Yang Yong heard this as "jia che", which means Shi drove the car. It was accordingly reflected in his description of Hu's activity.
When a health official later called Hu to ask some questions, Hu claimed that she did not state that she was doing contact tracing.
Instead, he said the conversation was very brief, lasting about five minutes, and the woman spoke very quickly. She also gave specific and directed questions and did not ask for further information, Hu added.
"The feeling was - she was just trying to verify some info through me, and it was not for me to provide information or to add on any information and there was no chance for me to elaborate," he said.
He added that he did not tell the official certain details of where he had gone with his wife for various reasons - including that she had not asked about specific outings, that she had not gone about the events chronologically, and he did not know the names of most of the places he had gone to.
Explaining the visit to view property, Hu said he did not know what it was called, and felt that if the official had spoken to him in person, he would have been able to show her the photo of the property that was in his phone.
Hu will resume his testimony on the stand on Thursday morning. His wife Shi faces four charges under the Infectious Diseases Act for withholding information, giving false information and failing to respond fully and truthfully to a health officer, and is expected to take the stand subsequently.
The couple had sought permission from the court to go back to China in October last year and return for the trial. The district court allowed at first, but the decision was reversed by the high court weeks later.
If convicted under the Infectious Diseases Act, Hu and his wife face up to six months' jail, a fine of up to S$10,000, or both per charge.