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Covid-19: Jail for man who dodged MC for fear of losing new job, repeatedly left home

SINGAPORE — A 35-year-old man was jailed seven weeks on Thursday (March 24) for refusing to go on medical leave despite having flu-like symptoms in March 2020, when the Covid-19 outbreak was approaching its peak in Singapore. 

Zac Leow Zhi Xiang arriving at the State Courts on March 24, 2022.

Zac Leow Zhi Xiang arriving at the State Courts on March 24, 2022.

  • Zac Leow Zhi Xiang went to the doctor for a cough in March 2020 and was told to stay home for five days
  • However, he refused to pick up his medical certificate and repeatedly left home in breach of Covid-19 rules
  • He went to his parents' house, hawker centres and reported to work
  • His lawyer argued that he was afraid to lose his new job as he was still on probation at the time

SINGAPORE — A 35-year-old man was jailed seven weeks on Thursday (March 24) for refusing to go on medical leave despite having flu-like symptoms in March 2020, when the Covid-19 outbreak was approaching its peak in Singapore. 

Zac Leow Zhi Xiang deliberately refused to pick up a medical certificate (MC) after visiting a clinic to seek treatment for a cough. It would have required him to stay home for five days under the law.

Instead, the Singaporean repeatedly left his flat to visit places such as hawker centres and his parents’ place, and also reported for his new job at a cigarette distribution firm for two days.

Leow pleaded guilty on Thursday to a single charge under the Infectious Diseases Act for breaching Covid-19 regulations.

Through his lawyer Wee Pan Lee, he told the court that he was afraid his employer would think he was malingering and this would affect his job confirmation.

However, the prosecution argued that for the majority of the occasions when he  had left home, they were not work-related.

He ultimately did not test positive for Covid-19.

The court heard that Leow consulted a doctor at a Circuit Road clinic on March 27, 2020. He complained of a cough and he was found to have a fever of 38°C.

The doctor told him that he would be issued a five-day MC because he had flu-like symptoms, and he could not leave his place of accommodation during the whole period.

Leow left the clinic before an MC could be issued. He then stayed out for about nine hours before returning home at midnight, visiting the following places:

  • 216 Bedok North Street 1 to hand something to a friend
  • ABC Brickworks Market & Food Centre in Bukit Merah for dinner
  • Jem mall in Jurong to get groceries
  • His parents’ home at a block of flats along Jurong West Central 1 to pick up his two children

The next day, he went out for more than three hours to his parents’ flat as well as Boon Lay Place Market and Food Village to get lunch.

The following day on March 29, 2020, he went out four times, visiting his parents and getting food at Yuhua Place Market & Hawker Centre.

The weekend then ended and he went to work for the next two days, staying out for close to 12 hours each time.

AFRAID OF JEOPARDISING PROBATION

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Timotheus Koh sought eight to 10 weeks’ jail, arguing that Leow had visited various public places that had potential heavy human traffic while he had symptoms associated with Covid-19.

In his mitigation plea, Mr Wee told the court that his client was in the middle of his six-month probation period at work. He would visit outlets, including supermarkets and convenience stores, within a designated zone as part of his job to take orders and deliver cigarettes.

The lawyer said: “He knew if he reported sick for mild ailments, he would be suspected by the company of malingering… This would affect his confirmation.

“You can see the reasons why he did not pick up the MC. If he took an MC, it would prejudice or jeopardise his probation, therefore he was anxious to go to work and preserve that job.”

In the end, Leow was fired from his job after the authorities began investigating him for violating Covid-19 rules. He then began working part-time as a Covid-19 swab tester and is now employed full-time with Raffles Medical Group.

On the day Leow visited the doctor for his flu-like symptoms, his temperature was normal throughout the rest of the day, Mr Wee said.

The defence counsel further argued that the relevant Covid-19 regulations, which bar people from leaving their homes while on MC for symptoms associated with the coronavirus, had kicked in two days before Leow went to the clinic.

“If it was published in the media, he was not aware of it,” Mr Wee added.

DPP Koh noted that the prosecution was aware of Leow’s reasons but urged the court to consider that he left home for non-work-related reasons most of the time.

The prosecutor said that there was “no indication that he explored alternatives for other people to run these errands” and there was “no evidence that he took steps to notify his employer of the circumstances or sought help from the authorities if necessary”.

Leow will begin serving his sentence on April 14 in order to give his notice of resignation to his current employer.

Those who breach Covid-19 laws can be jailed for up to six months or fined up to S$10,000, or punished with both.

Related topics

court crime Covid-19 breach Covid-19 regulations MC job

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