SINGAPORE: A woman on trial for withholding information from contact tracers after her husband from Wuhan tested positive for COVID-19 took the stand on Thursday (Jul 8), describing what she said was a miscommunication with a health officer.
Chinese national Shi Sha, 37, is contesting four charges under the Infectious Diseases Act for withholding information, giving false information and failing to respond fully and truthfully to a health officer.
Her husband Hu, 39, is accused of not telling a health officer that he had travelled to various places while infectious – including hotels, a restaurant and the Chinese embassy.
READ: Wuhan man on trial for obstructing MOH contact tracers says it’s ‘highly likely’ he had flu instead of COVID-19
In her testimony, Shi, who is also from Wuhan, described multiple obstacles in her communication with various people in Singapore, from a Grab driver to hospital nurses and the Ministry of Health contact tracer.
She claimed she can “almost” confirm that Mandarin is not the contact tracer’s mother tongue, and implied that some of the information on her husband’s whereabouts she is accused of omitting came down to miscommunication.
The court heard that Shi, a former police officer, was in Singapore on a long-term visit pass to accompany her daughter who was studying in an international school here.
READ: Chinese couple accused of omitting trips from contact tracers paid for S$7 journey with S$100 note, says Grab driver
In early December 2019, she booked a flight ticket for her husband to come to Singapore from China. At that time, there was “no news at all” about the COVID-19 situation, Shi said. In January 2020, the disease had started to spread in Wuhan, she said.
“But none of us among the people we know had been infected – friends, family members and colleagues of my husband. At that time, Wuhan also didn’t have any news of lockdown,” she said.
When her husband arrived in Singapore on Jan 22, 2020, he did not receive any brochure or pamphlets at the airport about the COVID-19 pandemic, and merely walked through a temperature-taking channel, Shi said.
Initially, the couple and their two daughters, along with Hu’s parents, stayed in two units at a condominium in the Tanglin area. One of the units was rented by Shi and Hu, while the other unit at #05-23 belonged to a neighbour.
Hu and Shi later decided to move to a hotel and checked in to Studio M Hotel on Jan 28, 2020. They were told they were required to have their temperature taken thrice daily as Hu had travelled from Wuhan.
Hotel staff took their temperatures the next day, which came back normal. But Hu later felt dizzy and unwell. Shi said her husband’s forehead felt a bit warm.
The couple then took a Grab vehicle to Singapore General Hospital (SGH), where Hu was tested for COVID-19. Shi said the hospital did not test her for COVID-19 or take her temperature.
Shi also told the court that she took a call from an SGH doctor, followed by a contact tracer Georgina Lim. Neither of them told her about the results of her husband’s COVID-19 test, said Shi.
LIKE A CHICKEN TALKING TO A DUCK: SHI
Shi said Ms Lim told her that she had a few questions about Hu’s whereabouts from Jan 22 to Jan 29.
She added that she felt it was difficult to communicate with Ms Lim, who spoke intermittently in Mandarin and in short answers.
Asked to assess Ms Lim’s command of the language, Shi said: “I almost can confirm that Mandarin is not her mother tongue. Also, based on the words or phrases she used and the sequence of the words and phrases, it was a bit confusing, so I also tried very hard to understand what she was trying to say.”
READ: Wife of COVID-19 patient gave information on whereabouts contrary to Grab records, contact tracer testifies
Ms Lim asked Shi several questions, beginning with whether Shi had driven a car to pick her husband up. According to Shi, she told Ms Lim that she did not have a car or a driving licence. She added that she called a car to pick him up, and that the car was white or silver.
Ms Lim previously testified that Shi told her they queued for a taxi at the airport and boarded a cab that was not blue.
Asked about this, Shi replied that she did not say that, and that Ms Lim did not quite understand what she was saying.
Shi is also accused of refusing to give the contact numbers of her Wuhan friends who went to dinner with her on one of the days. However, she explained that when she told Ms Lim her friends had gone back to China, Ms Lim told her she would no longer need their contact numbers.
Asked about this exchange, Shi said: “I felt the phrasing was awkward … I felt our conversation was like a chicken talking to a duck.”
She said she did not tell Ms Lim about her other movements, as well as her husband’s, as Ms Lim had told her the objective of her call very clearly – which was that she had a few questions about Hu’s movements.
Shi is also accused of giving the wrong unit number for the neighbour’s apartment. When asked about that, she said she told the contact tracer it was #05-01 as it was the first along the corridor and she always thought that was the unit number.
SHI’S EMOTIONS THROUGHOUT THE INCIDENT
Shi also gave an account of how worried she felt from the time her husband fell ill to the time he was warded.
She said that the nurses at SGH did not understand her Mandarin, adding that they also did not allow her to take blankets and food to her husband, who was feeling very cold and had not eaten all day.
She said she was so overwhelmed that she cried for several minutes in the hospital until a man came to help her.
“I stood there at a loss of what to do. I was very upset and teared,” said Shi.
She said she was also worried about the medical bills she thought they would chalk up, as she did not know that the Singapore Government covered the cost of COVID-19 treatment at the time.
Since being charged, people around the world have been reprimanding them after seeing the news, she said.
“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 and 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,” she added.
The trial continues on Friday with Shi on the stand. If convicted, both husband and wife face penalties of up to six months’ jail, a maximum S$10,000 fine or both, for each charge.