SINGAPORE — A married woman who wanted to hide her relationship with another man refused to tell Ministry of Health (MOH) officers about her specific whereabouts with the man for contact tracing purposes.
Oh Bee Hiok, 65, had been infected with COVID-19 in the earlier days of the pandemic after having dinner at a Safra Jurong restaurant on 15 February.
However, the homemaker had not been forthcoming about her movement before being admitted to the Singapore General Hospital on 24 February.
Oh was sentenced to five months’ jail on Friday (8 January) after she pleaded guilty to one of three counts under the Infectious Diseases Act, for deliberately omitting information on her whereabouts and activities with her close friend, Lim Kiang Hong, when asked by an MOH health officer. The remaining two were taken into consideration for sentencing.
Oh was diagnosed with COVID-19 on 26 February, two days after her hospital admission. An SGH epidemiologist spoke to Oh for the purpose of contact tracing between 3 and 17 February and Oh said that her usual routine was to go to the wet market on Monday, Wednesday and Friday to shop for groceries alone, or else she would stay home.
Interviewed about whereabouts
She developed a fever on 21 February and took medication, but did not see the doctor. She then participated in her husband’s birthday celebration before visiting a doctor a few days later and was advised to go to the hospital.
Oh then ended the conversation, claiming she was tired.
A day later, an MOH officer called Oh to verify what she had told the epidemiologist, stressing to Oh that she had to come clean will all the details.
Oh told her that she went to a temple on 7 and 8 February. During the 10 to 15 minute call, Oh repeated that she went to the wet market and did not add more details. By this time, Oh knew her grandson was unwell and had tested positive for COVID-19 on the same day. She told the officer that she was upset by the news reports on her grandson.
While another MOH officer was doing contact tracing on another patient, the patient claimed that he met Oh at Joy Garden Restaurant at Safra Jurong on 15 February during a karaoke event.
This officer asked Oh why she had not mentioned she went to Safra. In reply, Oh insisted that she had been there for only a short while and refused to give further details of her wet market trips.
“She was also defensive and not forthcoming when questioned by (the officer), and (the officer) had to warn her that it may amount to an offence under the (Infectious Diseases Act) if she were to conceal any information,” the prosecution told the court.
MOH later began investigating Oh for breaches of the Infectious Diseases Act.
During investigations, Oh’s meetings with her close friend, Lim, 72, surfaced through checks of carpark gantry records for both their cars, carpark CCTV footage, Lim’s credit card and call records, and interviews with Lim.
Oh met with Lim on five occasions in February, at Sakuraya Fish Mart at West Coast Plaza, at China Square Central, Ya Kun Kaya Toast at IMM Building, at Tonkatsu by Ma Maison and Isetan at Westgate. Most of these meetings were in the evening.
On 8 March, an MOH investigation officer met Oh to take a statement from her and Oh still did not disclose her meetings with Lim. She finally confessed to the meetings in a further statement on 9 March, saying that she would meet Lim on Tuesdays and Thursdays for lunch, tea or dinner, as she did not have to cook and her husband would be away playing badminton.
She deliberately withheld her activities from MOH officers and the epidemiologist as she wanted to keep these meetings private.
DPP Jane Lim told the court, “She did not want her family or Lim’s family to find out that they were going out so frequently, as she thought that their family and friends would suspect that they were in a romantic relationship and spread rumours about them being in an extra-marital affair.”
After her admission into SGH, Oh had told Lim to keep their outings to themselves when contacted by MOH officers. Lim tested positive for COVID-19 on 20 March.
DPP Lim asked for the maximum six months’ jail for Oh as serious harm was caused given that she had tested positive for COVID-19.
Oh had deliberately chosen to withhold information on her meetings with Lim, which were all in public places with high human traffic during peak hours, pointed out the DPP.
Oh’s actions had undermined MOH’s contact tracing efforts. She had also withheld the fact she was at the Safra Jurong dinner which was a well known cluster, and it was only through the MOH’s officers efforts that the cases were linked, added the DPP.
Oh’s evasive and defensive attitude had also resulted in a significant waste of public resources as multiple people were needed to ascertain her activity map.
The DPP also described Oh’s culpability as high, given that she had deliberately withheld information and even instigated Lim to do the same.
Housewife who doesn’t maintain calendar: mitigation
In mitigation, Oh’s lawyer Goh Teck Wee, said his client was “very ill and preoccupied with thoughts of death” when she was first asked about her movement by the epidemiologist.
“She thought ‘why am I on the brink of death being bothered by another MOH officer’. She is (an) elderly lady with all sorts of medical ailments,” said Goh.
“She is a housewife. She does not maintain a calendar unlike most working people. It would’ve been very hard for her to recall her last 14 days of activity.”
“It’s our submission that if she didn’t tell MOH, there would be no way for the MOH officer to know about the five meetings as at the time of the offences, the TraceTogether app was not even launched yet and is not as popular as it is today,” he added.
The lawyer suggested that Oh could have avoided prosecution by claiming she couldn’t recall earlier when she was asked, adding that only Oh’s grandson was infected by her.
Goh sought a “stiff fine” for her, stating that it would send the wrong message to the public if Oh went to jail for giving information, despite having omitted the information previously.
Oh said that she would be filing an appeal against the sentence. For withholding information and hindering MOH officers, she could have been jailed up to six months and/or fined up to $10,000.
Stay in the know on-the-go: Join Yahoo Singapore's Telegram channel at http://t.me/YahooSingapore
Other Singapore stories: