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Couple appeal against conviction, jail sentence for obstructing Covid-19 contact tracing efforts

SINGAPORE — A couple visiting from Wuhan, China were sentenced to jail on Wednesday (Nov 24) for withholding information from Covid-19 contact tracers.

Hu Jun (right) was jailed for five months and his wife Shi Sha (left) was jailed for six months.

Hu Jun (right) was jailed for five months and his wife Shi Sha (left) was jailed for six months.

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  • A couple visiting Singapore from China were jailed for obstructing Covid-19 contact tracing efforts here
  • Hu Jun was jailed for five months and his wife Shi Sha, six months
  • The couple intend to appeal against both the conviction and the sentence

 

SINGAPORE — A couple visiting from Wuhan, China were sentenced to jail on Wednesday (Nov 24) for withholding information from Covid-19 contact tracers.

China national Hu Jun, 40, tested positive for Covid-19 in January last year, nine days after arriving in Singapore from Wuhan to spend Chinese New Year with his family. The Chinese city was then the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.

He did not tell a health officer that he had travelled to various places while infectious, including hotels, a restaurant and the Chinese embassy here.

On Wednesday, he was jailed for five months on one charge under the Infectious Diseases Act, for deliberately withholding information from contact tracers about his whereabouts and activities. He was found guilty of the charge on Oct 26 this year following a trial. 

His wife, 36-year-old Shi Sha, who was convicted of four charges in October for withholding information, giving false information and failing to respond fully and truthfully to a health officer, was jailed for six months on Wednesday.

The couple’s lawyer, Mr Steven Lam from law firm Templars Law LLC, said that his clients intend to appeal both the conviction and sentence.

He had initially sought a maximum fine for the couple, in place of a custodial sentence.

NOT ACCEPTING RESPONSIBILITY

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Timotheus Koh, who sought the jail term given to Hu, and eight months' jail term for Shi, told the court that the couple have “clearly not accepted responsibility for their actions”.

The prosecutor said that the couple's mitigation submission showed that they continued to blame their circumstances on the authorities.

The couple also claimed that they should be “given credit” for acting responsibly by seeking treatment at a hospital and self-isolating, he added.

On Jan 29 last year, Hu went to the Singapore General Hospital with his wife, when he started coughing and feeling dizzy and warm.

DPP Koh said that this cannot be taken seriously as a mitigating factor.

Hu suspected that he had contracted a highly contagious disease, so “the natural response would be to treat it... out of self-preservation", DPP Koh added. "Self-isolation can be seen in the same vein.”

He also addressed another mitigation factor raised by the defence, that the couple had been away from their loved ones in China for a long time.

“They want to return to China as soon as possible to see their aged parents and young children...This should not be a sentencing consideration,” DPP Koh said.

“Taken to its logical conclusion, it will mean that offenders who are foreigners with young children or aged parents, or both, will receive more favourable treatment.”

DPP Koh said that in contrast to the sacrifices of Singapore’s front-line workers and many others who have made personal sacrifices to stem the spread of Covid-19, the couple have demonstrated that they are “willing to do the complete opposite and place their personal interests over public health and safety”.

“The courts must signal strongly that such dangerous behaviour is completely unacceptable and that those who defy our laws and who endanger public health will be sufficiently punished.” 

In response, Mr Lam said that his clients had never tried to deliberately withhold or mislead the authorities.

Moreover, they did not initially know that Hu had contracted Covid-19 despite displaying some symptoms such as coughing, because he is a smoker.

The lawyer added that when there were clear signs that Hu had contracted the disease, the first thing he did was to get himself admitted to hospital.

“Their position is that they tried their best. They may have had a misguided idea of what they needed to do, but the reality is that when the investigation officers spoke to them, they gave details.” 

Mr Lam also argued that any custodial sentence would “serve no purpose”.

“At the end of the day, what we want is a deterrent effect. Would it not also be served by way of a high fine?”

He said that the couple’s conviction will mean that they will be “blacklisted” and no longer able to enter Singapore easily.

In a way, this was a punishment of its own because it meant that “their dreams of having their children have a good education in Singapore would have been dashed,” he added.

This, in turn, would serve as an example to deter other foreigners from committing offences here, he argued.

DPP Koh said that coming from a place where there was an ongoing coronavirus outbreak at the time, Hu “should have known better”.

The couple could have faced penalties of up to six months' jail or up to S$10,000 fine, or both, for each charge under the Infectious Diseases Act. 

Related topics

crime court jail Covid-19 coronavirus Wuhan contact tracing false information

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