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Student returning from UK did not know she had to go home immediately for stay-home

She tested positive for Covid-19 a few days later, now on trial for exposing others to risk of infection

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Singapore – A student on trial for putting others at risk of Covid-19 infection by not going home straight after arriving in Singapore told the court she did not know she had to serve her stay-home notice (SHN) immediately.

Ms Esther Tan Ling Ying, 24, a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) student majoring in Acting in the United Kingdom, returned to Singapore on March 23, 2020, soon after Singapore imposed the SHN requirement to curb Covid-19.

Ms Tan allegedly had a meal with her parents at Orchis Food Court at Terminal 1 of Changi Airport before going to Clementi Family and Aesthetic Clinic to get medicine for her runny nose, reported channelnewsasia.com.

A few days after her arrival, Ms Tan tested positive for Covid-19. She is on trial for a single charge under the Infectious Diseases Act of exposing the public to the risk of virus infection.

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An Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officer testified having briefed the student of protocols when she landed at the airport and told her to head home immediately.

Ms Tan, however, told the court on Wednesday (March 10) that the officer did not relay such information, nor was there any such indication given in her SHN document. Based on what her friends told her, she hought her SHN would begin the following day.

But then she thought her  SHN would begin the same day when she reached home.

However, Deputy Public Prosecutor Sanjiv Vaswani asked Ms Tan during cross-examination why she had written in a statement to the authorities that she knew she had to head home when given the notice.

“As I said earlier, I was very scared, and my judgment was clouded,” said Ms Tan.

Mr Vaswani noted that the information to return home immediately must have come from the ICA officer since no such advice was given in the SHN document.

Ms Tan disagreed. She is also accused of lying about her travel history during her visit to the clinic. Despite knowing she had flu symptoms, Ms Tan thought she was having another bout of her chronic sinus problem.

Ms Tan admitted lying to the doctor as to the date of her arrival in Singapore. Still, she maintained that she had initially visited the clinic to get medication for her sinus issue.

When asked why she did not opt for nasal sprays from the pharmacy or ask the representative handling her SHN for the proper medication, Ms Tan said the former was not effective enough and she did not think of the latter option.

Placed others at risk in the clinic

Closed-circuit television footage of her entering the clinic showed she was wearing a face mask but with her nose exposed. She was also seen pulling the mask below her mouth before coughing twice.

Ms Tan agreed having potentially exposed others to the virus by not wearing her mask correctly.

Mr Vaswani also pointed out that Ms Tan had admitted having flu symptoms in her cautioned statement given to the police.

She wrote: “My family was anxious and terrified for me to visit the clinic as soon as I landed, as they were afraid for me (that I would) get the disease as well. I wanted to get medication from the doctor as I was afraid my flu would not have recovered … And I did not want to increase the risk by spreading it to my parents.”

Ms Tan admitted being “under a lot of pressure” when she made her statement and insisted she did not have the flu.

“Ms Tan, as a chronic sufferer of allergic rhinitis, you should know it cannot be spread from person to person,” said Mr Vaswani. “I do not know that,” she replied.

Contracted Covid-19 upon arrival

Mr Vaswani also mentioned that Ms Tan had reason to believe she had contracted Covid-19 upon arrival to Singapore.

“It is our evidence that you had respiratory symptoms when you presented at the doctor. In addition, we have heard evidence from (the doctor) that you told her that several other students at your university, as well as a teacher who had returned from Spain, had caught Covid-19,” said Mr Vaswani. Ms Tan disagreed.

“Your lawyer did not challenge this aspect of (the doctor’s) evidence,” added the deputy public prosecutor. “You claim you were told by ICA that you have to be home for 14 days. This morning you said – it is logical that the SHN starts the next day.

“Ms Tan, what kind of logic is that, that if we are trying to prevent a pandemic, but allow people to roam and only stay home the next day? There is no logic in that. Do you agree?” asked Mr Vaswani.

Ms Tan agreed.

“Your assertion that you were under the impression that the SHN starts the next day, and your logic, is completely erroneous,” said Mr Vaswani. “Were you under the impression that the virus was also suffering some form of jet lag and would only wake up the next day?”

Ms Tan’s defence lawyer Tan Cheng Kiong said that her client did not suspect having Covid-19 as she had been isolated and “there were no Covid cases in her school”.

The trial is scheduled to continue on Friday (March 12). If convicted under the Act, Ms Tan could be imprisoned for up to six months, fined up to S$10,000, or both./TISG

Read related: S’pore PR leaves hotel during stay-home-notice to meet wife in car, charged in court

S’pore PR leaves hotel during stay-home-notice to meet wife in car, charged in court

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