Woman charged for not wearing mask at MBS, outside court and elsewhere

Phoon Chiu Yoke, 53, seen leaving the State Courts without her mask on 24 May 2021. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)
Phoon Chiu Yoke, 53, seen leaving the State Courts without her mask on 24 May 2021. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — Just a day after she appeared in court to answer to an offence of not wearing a mask, Phoon Chiu Yoke was again hauled to court for fresh charges of failing to wear a mask while at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) and other public places.

The six fresh charges that Phoon, 53, was handed on Tuesday (25 May) include her removing her mask after leaving court on Monday, where she was photographed and filmed by the media.

Her charges include the incident at MBS earlier this month when she was filmed in a confrontation with a safe distancing ambassador (SDA). The incident on 15 May was caught in a viral video showing Phoon demanding to see the SDA's badge.

At her hearing, the prosecution applied to have Phoon remanded for psychiatric assessment at the Institute of Mental Health.

Appearing via videolink with a mask covering only her mouth, Phoon claimed that she was not aware that wearing a mask in public at the time of her alleged offences was a legal requirement. She asked to be exempted from remand for psychiatric assessment.

"I would like to be out on bail. I am a professional, I was an ex-naval officer and I have a good conduct from my history... I have residence in Singapore and I see no reason for why I have to be remanded," she told District Judge Adam Nakhoda.

However, the judge pointed out that an investigating officer put in a report that Phoon had repeatedly failed to wear a mask in public.

In reply, Phoon said, "Your honour, I am not familiar with new legislation that requires me to wear mask in public...I returned from Scotland from holidays for six to seven weeks and I never heard of this regulation to put on mask.

"I have never read any information that I have to wear a mask in public and so that was why I did not do so and then in recent cases similarly, I was not aware of this COVID-19 requirement legislation, I was informed on 15 May by a police officer...who investigated me."

Phoon then claimed she tried to oblige, but that she found the practice "abnormal" and therefore "forgot" to bring a mask out or put it on.

"I would like to state that none of these breaches were done intentionally, but I have very little information on this," she said, adding that she had never seen any campaign asking residents to wear a mask.

DJ Nakhoda ordered that Phoon be remanded at the Institute of Mental Health for two weeks for her psychiatric assessment. She will return to court on 8 June.

Phoon was arrested earlier on Tuesday and is being investigated for alleged breaches of her Stay-Home Notice (SHN) as well, the police said in a statement on Tuesday.

She allegedly returned to Singapore from the United Kingdom on 28 June last year and was issued with a 14-day SHN at Marina Bay Sands Hotel after clearing immigration. However, she allegedly left her hotel room on several occasions and failed to wear a mask while outside.

She was handed one charge under the Infectious Diseases Act for exposing others to the risk of infection for the alleged breach of SHN.

Apart from the incidents at MBS and outside the State Courts, Phoon is also said to have failed to wear her mask on 2 December last year at a shopping mall along Eu Tong Sen Street, on 18 May at a shopping complex along Bain Street, and outside Marina Bay Sands Hotel on 28 June.

"The police interviewed her in relation to these investigations on 15 May 2021, but despite this, she allegedly re-offended, including the incident on 24 May 2021 where she allegedly removed her mask after leaving the State Courts," the police said.

Earlier court appearance

Phoon had appeared in court on Monday to begin her trial for breaching COVID-19 regulations by not wearing a mask while at Newton Food Centre between 7.20pm and 8pm on 8 May last year, during the circuit breaker period.

She turned up without wearing a mask and only put it on at the entrance to the State Courts building. While in court, she tried to take off her mask to speak into the microphone, but the judge told her to keep it on.

After the trial was adjourned, and Phoon left the building, she was photographed by the media removing her mask once outdoors.

"Such conduct poses a real risk to public health given the current COVID-19 situation. In consultation with the Attorney-General’s Chambers, the police arrested (her) on 25 May 2021 and will be charging her with a view to seeking an order from the court to remand the woman for psychiatric assessment," the police said.

If convicted of failing to adhere to SHN requirements, she may be jailed up to six months and/or fined up to $10,000. If convicted of failing to wear a mask while outside of her residence, Phoon faces a jail term of up to six months and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

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