April 30, 2020 / 4:09 AM / in 3 months

Singaporeans who break quarantine for food pay hefty bill

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A Singaporean man who broke his coronavirus quarantine with 30 minutes remaining to buy prata flatbread worth a few dollars was fined $1,000 (£803), the latest in a string of tough punishments for those who breach the city-state’s COVID-19 containment rules.

FILE PHOTO: A plate of roti prata is seen at a stall in eastern Singapore August 9, 2016. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

The tiny island nation, known for its no-nonsense law enforcement and widespread surveillance, has one of the highest coronavirus caseloads in Asia due to mass outbreaks in cramped migrant worker dormitories.

But it has won international praise for its strict quarantine and contact tracing regime that have limited infections in the wider community.

In mid-March, 22-year-old financial adviser Tay Chun Hsien was ordered not to leave his home after he was suspected of being a contact of a coronavirus patient, court documents show.

But just 30 minutes before the order was due to expire he headed to a nearby food court where, according to local media, he ate roti prata, an Indian-inspired flatbread popular in Southeast Asia.

As he was eating, an officer monitoring his quarantine called his mobile phone to check if he was at home but Tay said he had left to buy food because he was hungry, according to the case records.

“At this critical stage in the nation’s fight against COVID-19, everyone has a part to play. Persons who are subject to Home Quarantine Orders and other measures...must comply,” said deputy public prosecutor Norman Yew, adding that Tay had returned home quickly and presented low risk of transmission.

Tay, who was fined S$1,500 ($1,063.00) this week, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Under the Infectious Diseases Act, punishments for such breaches can be fines of up to S$10,000 or imprisonment of up to six months, or both.

Tougher punishment was doled out to Alan Tham Xiang Sheng, a 33-year-old businessman, who broke an order to stay home to eat bah kut teh - a pork rib soup common to Singapore and Malaysia.

Tham was given the order to stay home for 14 days in mid-March when he returned from Myanmar, one of a number of countries subject to travel restrictions at the time to curb imported infections.

The night he returned home, Tham went by bus to a local food court to eat the soup and posted pictures on social media, case records show.

“Lives are at stake. A clear deterrent message must be sent to those who would put the health and safety of others at risk for the sake of their convenience or whims and fancies,” the public prosecutors said.

Tham, who was sentenced to six weeks in jail, could not be reached for comment.

Reporting by John Geddie; Editing by Michael Perry

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