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Covid-19: Chef jailed for working, attending job interview in breach of MC ordering him to isolate

SINGAPORE — Despite having developed Covid-19-related symptoms, just as Singapore was entering the height of the pandemic in 2020, a chef disregarded his doctor's directive to isolate himself at home and carried on working, socialising and even attending a job interview.

Lau Zhi Zhang arriving at the State Courts on Feb 21, 2022.
Lau Zhi Zhang arriving at the State Courts on Feb 21, 2022.
  • Lau Zhi Zhang developed Covid-19 related-symptoms and was told by a doctor he had to stay home “by law”
  • Lau disregarded the doctor’s instructions and went back to work, socialise and attend a job interview
  • He eventually tested positive for Covid-19
  • Lau was jailed for five months after pleading guilty to two charges under the Infectious Diseases Act

SINGAPORE — Despite having developed Covid-19-related symptoms, just as Singapore was entering the height of the pandemic in 2020, a chef disregarded his doctor's directive to isolate himself at home and carried on working, socialising and even attending a job interview.

On Monday (Feb 21), Lau Zhi Zhang, a 25-year-old Malaysian, was jailed for five months after he pleaded guilty to two charges under the Infectious Diseases Act.

Two other similar charges were taken into consideration for sentencing.

THE CASE

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Benedict Teong said that Lau’s offences were committed shortly before Singapore entered a "circuit breaker", a semi-lockdown imposed on April 7 in 2020 to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

At that time, Lau, a long-term visit pass holder, was a chef at the Napoleon Food & Wine Bar along Telok Ayer Street.

DPP Teong said that sometime towards the end of March in 2020, Lau had developed a fever, cough and runny nose.

He was later examined by a doctor at a clinic along Circuit Road on March 31, and was found to have a temperature of 37.7°C. He was diagnosed with upper respiratory tract infection.

Due to the Covid-19 situation, the doctor issued Lau a medical certificate (MC) from March 31 to April 4, which stated that he was “required by law to stay home (for) five days”.

Instead of having regards to his symptoms and being careful, the accused repeatedly flouted the requirements stated on his medical certificate.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Benedict Teong

Furthermore, the doctor also told Lau that it was mandatory for him to stay at home and that he could not leave the house or go to work for those five days.

Lau thus had “reason to suspect that he was a case of Covid-19 in light of his symptoms and the MC issued to him at the clinic”, DPP Teong said.

In spite of that, Lau did not return home straight away, but went to have lunch at a nearby hawker centre.

The next morning, Lau left his house to meet his colleague, Mr Benjamin Yip, to work at the Napoleon restaurant.

DPP Teong said Mr Yip was aware that Lau had an MC and even told Lau not to head to work, but Lau responded that he was already on the way and spent more than 12 hours working in the kitchen with Mr Yip before they took the train home together.

Then, Lau began developing a dry cough and lost his sense of taste — both symptoms of Covid-19 — from April 2 onwards.

Again, he chose to have lunch at the Circuit Road Food Centre on April 3, rather than staying at home.

DPP Teong said that at around this time, both Lau and Mr Yip were looking for a new job, and they were able to secure for themselves a job interview at the Picotin, a restaurant along Fairways Drive near Turf City.

The interview was scheduled for April 4 and the men took a private-hire vehicle together there. They were interviewed by the restaurant manager at Picotin and then returned to Napoleon by taxi in the early afternoon.

DPP Teong said that Lau was not required at work that day, but remained at the restaurant because he wanted to have a drink and chat with his friend.

It was during this chat that Lau told Mr Yip that he suspected he had had Covid-19 since April 2 when he developed a dry cough, to which his friend advised him to do a swab test as soon as possible.

Lau then took a private-hire vehicle home, but went for a swab test only on April 6 and tested positive for Covid-19.

He was taken to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases on April 7 by ambulance and was eventually discharged on April 19.

Aside from Lau, his wife and their domestic worker also tested positive for Covid-19. Mr Yip did not test positive for the coronavirus, but was quarantined as a close contact of Lau’s.

DPP Teong, who sought the jail term imposed, said that Lau had a high degree of culpability since he had strong reasons to suspect that he had been infected with Covid-19.

“Instead of having regards to his symptoms, and being careful, the accused repeatedly flouted the requirements stated on his medical certificate… there was no immediate necessity for the accused to go.”

In seeking a lighter sentence for his client, defence lawyer Anil Singh said that Lau had mitigated any risk he posed by wearing a mask at all times.

Moreover, the lawyer asked for leniency, because the conviction would mean that Lau would be separated from his wife once he completes his sentence since he would have to return to Malaysia. Her nationality was not stated.

In response, District Judge Toh Han Li said that it was “most unfortunate”, but a firm stance had to be taken in such cases, especially when it involves a Covid-19-positive individual.

Lau’s wife, who was present in the courtroom, was heard crying audibly after the sentence was read out by the judge.

For each charge of breaching the Infectious Diseases Act, Lau could have been jailed for up to six months or fined up to S$10,000, or both.

Related topics

crime court breach Covid-19 coronavirus

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