Taxi driver who ferried passengers during pandemic despite having COVID-19 symptoms gets jail

Taxi driver who ferried passengers during pandemic despite having COVID-19 symptoms gets jail

SINGAPORE: A taxi driver who had COVID-19 symptoms and went to a doctor in 2020 refused a swab test and flouted an order to stay home for five days, instead heading out every day to ferry passengers.

Ho Kieh Lueh, 66, was sentenced to 12 weeks’ jail on Wednesday (Nov 2) for his offences.

He pleaded guilty to two charges of exposing others to the risk of contracting COVID-19 from him. Another three charges were taken into consideration.

The court heard that Ho went to a clinic on Jul 20, 2020 with symptoms such as a sore throat and phlegm.

The doctor diagnosed him with an acute respiratory infection and issued him a medical certificate for five days, telling him to remain at home during that period.

However, Ho refused to accept the medical certificate from the clinic assistant and argued with the assistant. He also disregarded the doctor’s instructions to undergo a swab test.

To date, it cannot be determined if Ho had COVID-19 at the time as he did not take a swab test.

Ho then went on to work as a taxi driver every day between Jul 20, 2020 and Jul 24, 2020, picking up numerous passengers.

On Jul 23, 2020, he picked up a total of nine passengers via bookings made on the Grab application. He picked up six passengers the following day.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Jane Lim asked for 12 to 14 weeks’ jail, saying deterrence was needed. The risk of transmission was very high in this case, as Ho had symptoms associated with COVID-19.

He failed to comply with orders to remain at home and instead ferried passengers, exposing them to the risk of COVID-19. The virus could have been spread further via the passengers, she said.

As a taxi driver, Ho should have known and exercised more social responsibility, but instead flagrantly broke the rules, said Ms Lim.

His refusal to take a swab test means that “we’ll never know if he had COVID-19 at the material time”, she said.

In mitigation, Ho asked for leniency, saying he was old and had two children in university.

He said he did not dare to drive a taxi anymore after the incident and has several medical conditions, making monthly visits to the hospital. He now works as a bus attendant.

District Judge Luke Tan told Ho that he was sick enough to see a doctor, but disregarded his instructions thereafter and even argued with the clinic assistant.

He said he was a taxi driver, a public transport worker at the time. His job required him to interact with a host of people.

“In the narrow confines of your taxi, with your symptoms, you interacted with them. You put them at risk,” said Judge Tan.

“While you highlighted your own age – 66 – and your health conditions, you could well have exposed others who were similarly of elderly age, and who may have had medical conditions similar or even worse than yours.”

He said the sentence had to be “sufficiently deterrent to make sure that you and others don’t go around doing things like this, or even consider doing things like this”.

Ho could have been jailed up to six months, fined up to S$10,000, or both.