Couple accused of withholding contact tracing information claim trial

Chinese nationals Hu Jun, 38, and his wife Shi Sha, 36, who were charged under the Infectious Diseases Act, walking outside the State Courts building on 28 February 2020. (PHOTOS: Wan Ting Koh/Yahoo News Singapore)
Chinese nationals Hu Jun, 38, and his wife Shi Sha, 36, who were charged under the Infectious Diseases Act, walking outside the State Courts building on 28 February 2020. (PHOTOS: Wan Ting Koh/Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — A married couple accused of withholding information from public health officials about their whereabouts after the husband tested positive for COVID-19 claimed trial on Monday (17 August).

Chinese nationals Shi Sha, 36, and her husband, Hu Jun, 38, were the first to be charged under the Infectious Diseases Act (IDA) earlier this year after it was revealed that they had possibly lied about their whereabouts between 22 and 29 January.

Hu is contesting 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 faces a similar charge for lying to another public health officer, two charges for hindering the officer by providing false information, and one charge under the IDA for failing to reply truthfully to health officials’ questions.

Details of the case

Hu, a Wuhan resident, arrived in Singapore on 22 January. He developed COVID-19 symptoms a day after and sought treatment at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) on 29 January. He was then placed in an isolation room and tested positive for the virus on 31 January.

Hu told the authorities that he had remained in the couple’s Nathan Road home from the date till he arrived till the visited the hospital. He later recovered from the infection and was discharged on 20 February. Shi, who had been identified as a close contact of Hu was issued with a quarantine order on 1 February.

Hu is believed to have visited the Long Beach Seafood @ Stevens restaurant and Marina One Residences on 22 January; the Chinese Embassy in Singapore, Ngee Ann City mall and Intercontinental Singapore Hotel on 24 January; as well as the Studio M Hotel on 28 January.

Shi, who had accompanied Hu to SGH on 29 January, had initially claimed that she had taken a taxi from Nathan Road although her travel records on her phone’s Grab app showed that she had travelled from Studio M Hotel instead.

The couple are represented by lawyer Dhanwant Singh, who raised three preliminary objections before the trial began. He argued that the couple’s alleged offences were committed before COVID-19 was scheduled in the IDA; that the charges faced by the couple differ from the original; and that his client’s original telephone conversation in Mandarin should have been produced in court rather than a summary.

However, District Judge Ng Peng Hong dismissed the defence’s objections as being without merit and proceeded with the trial.

Witness testimonies

Epidemiologist Yang Yong was called to the stand, where he testified to having communicated with Hu through WeChat after Hu was hospitalised, for the purposes of contact tracing.

Referring to his report on Hu on 29 January, the doctor said Hu had told him that he was at home with his parents, wife and daughter between 7am and 6pm on 22 January. Hu then claimed he had visited a restaurant for a meal with a friend from 6pm to 9pm before he walking to another friend’s home at Loft @ Nathan.

Hu then allegedly stayed at his friend’s home until the next day, when he developed a fever. Between 23 and 24 January, his wife sent him medication and food. Hu allegedly stayed at his friend’s house for the next five days as he wanted to keep away from his family. He said this friend was not in the country at the time.

Between 11am and 12.43pm on 29 January, Hu said his wife sent him to the SGH’s Emergency Department.

Yang testified that Hu did not say that he had been to Marina One Residences, the Chinese Embassy, Ngee Ann City, the Intercontinental Singapore Hotel or Studio M Hotel, which were all listed in the charge sheet.

The second witness to take the stand was senior public health officer Georgina Lim, who had contacted Shi for contact tracing after it emerged there were some gaps in the information the latter had provided.

According to Lim, Shi said she met her husband at Changi Airport on 22 January and they both then took a taxi home. However, Shi was unable to provide a receipt for the journey, nor was she able to recall the name of the taxi company.

Shi also claimed that the couple stayed at home until 29 January, except for when Hu left the house for a walk on 24 January.

Lim then checked with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) on Shi’s claims and was told that there was no record of any taxi having picked up the couple from Nathan Road to go to SGH that day. CCTV records from SGH also showed no sign of any such taxi.

A check by LTA using Shi’s phone number found that she had travelled to SGH on 29 January in a car booked via the Grab application.

When Lim contacted Shi about this discrepancy, the latter insisted that she had flagged down a taxi from Nathan Road.

“I told (Shi) I had records that showed otherwise and reminded her to be truthful. I told her we had records and it showed otherwise... Meaning that she said she had flagged taxi but it was instead booked through Grab. She said it was from Nathan Road to SGH but instead it was Studio M Hotel to SGH,” said Lim in court.

Singh then informed the court that he needed time to prepare for his cross-examination of Lim. The case has been adjourned till Tuesday.

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