COVID trial: Wuhan woman says hard to understand contact tracer's Mandarin

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 woman from China who is on trial for giving false information about her whereabouts early last year after her husband was diagnosed with COVID-19 said that the communication between herself and a contact tracer had been poor.

Shi Sha, 36, told the court on Thursday (8 July) that she did not know what she did wrong, in the first day of her examination in chief by her lawyer Steven Lam. She was testifying about her whereabouts a week before her husband, Hu Jun, 38, was admitted into the hospital for the virus and communication with the contact tracer.

Shi and her husband are both former police officers, and Shi has a degree in Chinese Literature, court proceedings revealed.

The couple, who hail from Wuhan, is on trial for giving wrong or withholding information from the authorities amid the COVID-19 situation. 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 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.

Hu arrived in Singapore on 22 January. He sought treatment at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) on 29 January and was placed in an isolation room. He later tested positive for the coronavirus. Shi had entered Singapore on a Long-Term Visit Pass issued on 30 January 2019 to accompany her 11-year-old daughter, who studies at an international school here.

The couple 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.

On 29 January, Shi said that she accompanied her husband to SGH after he felt sick. Following his hospital admission, she said she was not told whether Hu had tested positive for the virus, even though she later saw a news report about a positive case that had similar details to her husband.

On the night of 30 January, Shi said that she received a call from a woman from the Ministry of Health (MOH) who said she was in charge of contact tracing. This woman claimed not to know whether Hu was a confirmed case, said Shi.

“I would like to explain that the way (the woman) spoke, I find that it was difficult to communicate with her,” Shi said through a Mandarin interpreter.

"Based on the conversation I felt she might not have understood what I was talking to her and her answers were very short and simple and she was speaking intermittently so I didn’t ask her about my husband's testing status,” said Shi, when asked to elaborate.

She said that the woman had been speaking in Mandarin, but that her use of words and phrases were confusing.

“I almost can confirm that Mandarin is not her mother tongue…I was trying very hard to understand what she was trying to say,” said Shi.

The woman then allegedly asked Shi for details on how she had picked up her husband on 22 January, and the friends she had met.

Lam then referred to the contact tracer’s evidence that Shi had refused to provide the number of her two friends as she did not want MOH to call them. Shi denied refusing to give the numbers to the woman.

She said, “When the woman heard my friends were back in China, she said she didn’t need the numbers already. (She) said they won’t be calling them so I didn’t look for their numbers.

“I felt like the quality of conversation between me and her was not very good,” said Shi, adding that at times she felt that the conversation was akin to a “chicken talking to a duck”.

When asked why she did not mention certain details of their movement, Shi said that the purpose of the call was clear. The woman had said that she wished to ask Hu Jun’s whereabouts from 22 to 29 January. As such, the woman’s questions were “very specific” and Shi said her replies were similarly “very specific”.

At one point of the trial, Shi was asked by her lawyer how she could recall details of January last year so clearly. An emotional Shi replied, “Because for this matter from the beginning till now, it has been almost two years. When news about us being prosecuted was released on the internet… there was some (mud-slinging) by the free media. The people around the world have been reprimanding us.

“Therefore in these almost two years, we could not see our relatives or family, cannot see our children. Every day and night I have been remembering, recalling these details because I do not know – for going to the hospital on our own accord, treating every call from MOH seriously. I do not know what I have done wrong, therefore I have been thinking over these details.”

The trial resumes with Shi’s examination in chief on Friday.

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