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Foreign worker remanded at IMH for evaluation after twice breaking Covid-19 laws in bid to fly to India

SINGAPORE — Even though he suspected that he might have been infected with Covid-19, a 25-year-old foreign worker defied instructions to stay put at the Singapore General Hospital while waiting for his swab test results.

Foreign worker remanded at IMH for evaluation after twice breaking Covid-19 laws in bid to fly to India

Balachandran Parthiban, 25, has been remanded at the Institute of Mental Health for evaluation after pleading guilty to two charges of breaching Covid-19 laws.

  • Balachandran Parthiban was told not to leave SGH while waiting for his Covid-19 swab test results
  • He left anyway for the airport by bus and taxi, intending to buy a ticket to India
  • He later tested positive for Covid-19
  • Balachandran later disobeyed an order to stay within his dormitory to make a second attempt to buy a flight ticket

 

SINGAPORE — Even though he suspected that he might have been infected with Covid-19, a 25-year-old foreign worker defied instructions to stay put at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) while waiting for his swab test results.

Balachandran Parthiban then took public transport to Changi Airport where he tried unsuccessfully to buy a ticket to India, and then loitered at Terminal 1 for about four hours before he was picked up by the police and escorted back to the hospital.

Balachandran tested positive for Covid-19.

He pleaded guilty on Friday (May 14) to one charge each of exposing others to the risk of Covid-19 and leaving an isolation area without permission.

Another two charges of exposing others to the risk of infection and of using insulting words towards a health officer will be considered in sentencing.

Balachandran, who was remanded at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for a psychiatric evaluation on Friday, will return to court for sentencing on June 10.

THE CASE

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Norman Yew said that Balachandran was a resident of the Jurong Penjuru dormitory, which had been gazetted as an isolation area on April 18 last year to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

On the morning of May 23, Balachandran reported sick at his dormitory and complained of fever and sore throat.

Based on his signs and symptoms, and that he knew that other dormitory residents had tested positive for Covid-19, Balachandran suspected that he was infected as well.

He was then taken to SGH by ambulance to undergo a Covid-19 swab test at around 12.45pm.

About an hour later, he was transferred to the hospital’s "fever screening area" at SGH’s multi-story car park to wait for his swab test results.

DPP Yew said that the nurses told Balachandran repeatedly in English and Tamil not to leave the car park until his test results were ready, and to inform them if he needed to go anywhere.

Despite acknowledging their instructions, Balachandran left the car park at around 5.35pm without giving notice because he wanted to buy a flight ticket back to India at Changi Airport.

His swab test results later showed that he was a confirmed Covid-19 case.

DPP Yew said that Balachandran was captured on closed-circuit television leaving the car park with two haversacks and was found to have been carrying his passport with him.

To get to the airport, Balachandran had first walked a total of 2.1km before boarding a public bus and then later flagging down a taxi to get him to Terminal 1 at Changi Airport.

At the airport, he tried to buy his flight ticket, but to no avail, and was later picked up by the police after they found him loitering at Terminal 1. They escorted him back to SGH.

The taxi driver who took him to the airport was issued a quarantine order for 14 days and could not work during this time. He tested negative for the virus.

Balachandran completed his period of isolation in the hospital on June 8 last year and was diagnosed to be no longer infectious. He went back to the dormitory, was ordered to serve another 14 days' leave of absence and was not allowed to leave the dorm.

However, he again left for the airport on June 16 as he wanted to leave Singapore, because he knew that there were many dormitory residents who were infected, DPP Yew said.

Similar to the previous instance, he took a taxi to the airport at around 5.50am with the intention of buying a flight ticket to India, but was again rejected.

After spending the night sleeping at the airport, he went to a relative’s home in Tampines the following day where he revealed that he had left his dormitory without permission.

The relative called and alerted Balachandran's supervisor, and the police arrived to escort him back to the dormitory at around noon that day.

'NOT IN THE PINK OF MENTAL HEALTH'

On Friday, Balachandran's defence lawyer Cory Wong of Invictus Law asked District Judge Ronald Gwee to remand his client at IMH for a psychiatric evaluation.

Mr Wong, who had taken up the case pro bono, referred to an SGH memo dated June 8 last year. It stated that Balachandran had been diagnosed with adjustment disorder.

Between April 7 and May 4 this year, he had been prescribed antipsychotic medication, and was recently admitted to IMH for psychiatric observation from April 16 to May 5.

“We thus have a nagging suspicion that Balachandran may not have been in the pink of mental health at the material offending time and, given that we are not experts in the field of psychiatry, we humbly defer to the opinion of such an expert,” Mr Wong said.

He added that Balachandran was unable to obtain a psychiatric report earlier due to his limited financial means.

The punishment for each charge of exposing others to the risk of infection and leaving an isolation area without permission is up to six months’ jail or a fine of up to S$10,000, or both.

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