Hotel staff who went to work despite having MC jailed 8 weeks

SINGAPORE — A hotel employee who was placed on medical leave and told not to leave his residence in April last year instead went to work for the next three days.

He concealed the fact that he had been issued a medical certificate (MC) from colleagues and supervisors.

Chan Foo Mun’s only saving grace, said District Judge Jasvinder Kaur, was that he did not test positive for COVID-19, despite having acute respiratory symptoms.

Chan, a 43-year-old Singaporean, was jailed for eight weeks on Tuesday (10 August) after he pleaded guilty to two counts under the Infectious Diseases Act for exposing others to the risk of the virus by his presence in public places on two occasions while on medical leave. Another five charges of a similar nature were considered for his sentencing.

Worked as hotel receptionist

Chan was a hotel front desk receptionist with J8 Hotel, located at 8 Townshend Road. In January last year, the hotel encountered a guest who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. His employer enforced the policy that those issued with an MC were not allowed to report to work.

Chan went to the Care Family Clinic along Buffalo Road on 19 April last year, and filled in a questionnaire related to the COVID-19 situation while awaiting his turn. He was seeking medical attention for a cough and blocked nose that had lasted about two to three days. At the time, Singapore had entered a partial lockdown known as the circuit breaker from 7 April due to the escalating pandemic.

He was seen by a doctor, who diagnosed him to be suffering from an acute respiratory infection with the attendant acute respiratory symptoms. During the consultation, the doctor specifically informed Chan that he would be issued with a five-day MC from 19 to 23 April 2020.

The doctor added that this was a Stay-Home Notice so Chan should stay at home and not leave for any purpose other than to seek medical attention. The doctor emphasised that Chan was not allowed to leave his residence even to buy food, and that he was to find someone who could help him.

After the consultation ended, Chan was asked to wait to receive his MC and medication. Instead of waiting however, Chan left the clinic without paying and went to work at his hotel.

“The accused had done so because ‘it was troublesome’, the accused knew of the hotel’s policy in force… and he did not want his pay to be deducted as a result of his inability to go to work,” said Deputy Public Prosecutor Kenneth Kee.

From 19 to 21 April, Chan went to work each day. He hid the fact that he had seen a doctor and that he had been issued with an MC. As a receptionist, he also interacted with guests at the hotel.

On 20 April, Chan also left his residence to buy lunch at a food centre located at Block 527 Ang Mo Kio between travelling to work. He interacted with at least four colleagues at the hotel. He was also not wearing a mask at a lift lobby of his residence.

Two days later, two enforcement officers from the Ministry of Health visited Chan at his home. The MOH officers questioned Chan about his visit to the clinic on 19 April and told him that he was mandated by law to stay at home for the duration of the MC before leaving.

Chan stayed home that day, but left his home on 23 April at 11.40am to buy food again.

Prioritised 'personal profit'

Chan's lawyer Cory Wong asked for not more than six weeks' jail, pointing out that Chan had not tested positive.

DPP Kee sought three months' jail, noting that Chan had left the clinic without officially receiving his MC as he wanted to go to work.

"In so doing, the accused was motivated by concerns of personal profit which he prioritised over public safety," said the DPP.

DJ Kaur noted that while the breaches were not committed due to frivolous reasons, as Chan was concerned with his livelihood, this must be balanced with Chan placing his own personal interests above the health of others whom he interacted with.

For exposing others to the risk of COVID-19 infection, Chan could have been jailed up to six months, and/or fined up to $10,000 on a first offence.

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