Monday, September 20, 2021

Jail for Covid-positive student who confessed in letter to Singapore health minister

He and his friends had lied to contact tracers and tried to hide their meet-ups during the circuit breaker period.

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After testing positive for Covid-19, a university student was worried that contact tracing officers would uncover his illegal meet-ups with friends during the Singapore “circuit breaker” period so they tried to hide the evidence.

However, he later confessed his misdeeds in a letter to the health minister, which landed him in court.

The court heard that Leon Chua Yi Yan, 27, broke Covid-19 regulations by meeting three friends during the period when social gatherings were prohibited.

His co-accused were: 26-year-old Shu Shao Qiang, 26-year-old Jarren Ng Yong Jie and 27-year-old Phan Chang Rong.

The four had met on several occasions to buy drinks, smoke, and chat, their messaging logs showed.

In early June, Chua developed symptoms of Covid-19 and went to a doctor. He tested positive.

During the initial contact tracing process, Chua did not tell the officer that he had been illegally meeting his three friends.

After his positive test, Chua called Shu to tell him the news and asked him to delete their WhatsApp chatlog, to destroy evidence they had met each other during the circuit breaker period. He then called Ng and told him the same thing.

Chua asked Ng to tell Phan to delete his chats as well, but Phan did not do so.

On July 20, more than a month after being diagnosed with Covid-19, Chua wrote a letter to Singapore’s health minister in which he confessed that he had met Shu, Ng and Phan on multiple occasions during the circuit breaker period.

In his letter, he admitted knowingly withholding information crucial to contact tracing and obstructing those efforts.

He also admitted meeting his three friends under the pretext of buying groceries, breaching Covid-19 regulations, endangering the lives of others and planning a coordinated response in case authorities had closed-circuit television footage of them gathering.

After he sent the letter, Shu, Ng and Phan were contacted by the authorities. They were taken to court and fined between S$3,500 and S$10,000 for their involvement.

In court on Monday, Chua pleaded guilty to four charges of breaking Covid-19 regulations.

Deputy public prosecutor Joshua Lim said the nature of the activities that Chua met his friends for – smoking and chatting – was frivolous. Chua had acted with “reckless disregard” and taken actions to conceal his breach, he said.

Even though Chua eventually confessed what he did in his letter to the minister, this was more than a month after his diagnosis, said Lim.

In mitigation, Chua, who was not represented by a lawyer, said he was “utterly remorseful” for his actions adding that he had been naive of the severity of his mistakes.

“I am trying to seek a fine-only sentence and not imprisonment,” he said. “I just graduated from NTU this June and have found a job, which I am starting next week.”

He told the court that since recovering from Covid, he had dutifully followed the rules set out by the authorities and had been studiously trying to complete his degree.

He added that he was “deeply shocked” to hear the prosecutor ask for a jail term. He said prison would negate his long-term employability, and that his parents were both retired and would be severely affected by his sentence.

The judge told Chua he had shown a “blatant disregard for public safety and the nationwide efforts to curb the pandemic”.

However, she took into account his mitigation plea and personal circumstances, and fined him S$15,000 and handed him a prison sentence of six weeks.

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