SINGAPORE — A Chinese couple who withheld information from contact tracers amid the COVID-19 pandemic last year were both sentenced to jail on Wednesday (24 November).
Hu Jun, 40, was handed five months' jail, while Shi Sha, 38, was given six months' jail, after a court case that lasted nearly two years. Both have filed appeals against their conviction and sentence.
The Wuhan couple were the first to be charged under the Infectious Diseases Act (IDA) last year when they were found to have lied about their whereabouts between 22 and 29 January, after Hu was tested positive for the coronavirus on 31 January.
Hu had claimed trial to one charge of hindering a public health officer by deliberately withholding information about his alleged visits to six locations between 22 and 29 January.
Shi contested a charge for lying to another public health officer, and three charges for hindering an officer by either providing false information or withholding information when asked by health officials.
Both were found guilty after trial by District Judge Ng Peng Hong on 26 October this year.
Defence sought fines for 'misguided' couple
On Wednesday, the couple were represented by lawyer Steven Lam, who said that the duo had "tried their best".
"They might have misguided ideas of what they have to do when the MOH (Ministry of Health) first contacted them by phone," said Lam. "But the reality check came when (the investigating officer) spoke to them, and they gave detailed information from then on. When there were clear symptoms that (Hu) might be infected with COVID19, he also got himself isolated from the rest of the world."
Lam sought a fine of $10,000 for Hu and $20,000 for Shi, asking the court what purpose a long jail term would serve.
Noting that the couple will be blacklisted after the case concluded, he added, "Their dreams of their children having a good education in Singapore will be dashed. That in itself will be a deterrence to foreigners as well."
He said in his mitigation that the couple have been in "mental torture" and distress as they have not been able to see their children and aged parents for more than one-and-a-half years.
Prosecution indicated lack of remorse among couple
Deputy Public Prosecutor Timotheus Koh submitted for a five-month jail term for Hu, while asking for Shi to be jailed eight months.
He said, "The prosecution notes that the accused persons have clearly not accepted responsibility for their actions. In their mitigation, it is apparent that they continue to blame circumstances and the authorities for the charge that they face. At no point in their mitigation is the word ‘remorse’ mentioned.
"They have also demonstrated that they are determined to be dishonest in the face of their conviction. They continued to make their case that they have done their level best to cooperate despite clear evidence to the contrary."
On the point that Hu had voluntarily sought treatment, DPP Koh said this cannot be taken seriously as a mitigation factor, as it was a natural response on Hu's part.
"When Hu suspected he had contracted a highly infectious and potentially deadly disease, the natural response would be to treat the disease. This would be an act of self preservation. The act of self isolation was similarly to protect his children and aged parents," the prosecution added.
"This would be consistent with their self-interested mentality. If they were really concerned...about others getting infected, they should have been forthright with contract tracers when asked about their movement and activities.
"We close by saying that, in contrast to the sacrifices to front-line workers... the accused persons have demonstrated that they were willing to do the opposite, sell public interest cheaply and place personal interest in the forefront."
Responding to the defence's point about the couple's "mental torture", DPP Koh said this should not be considered in sentencing as this would mean foreigners with young children and aged parents would received more favourable treatment.
A person convicted of an offence under the Infectious Diseases Act is liable to a fine of up to $10,000 or to a jail term not exceeding six months, or to both, for a first offence.
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