Chef went to work despite being on MC, later tested positive for COVID-19

Singapore's State Courts seen on 21 April 2020. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)
Singapore's State Courts seen on 21 April 2020. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — A chef at a Telok Ayer restaurant went to work despite being placed on medical leave for an upper respiratory tract infection.

Even when Lau Zhi Zhang, 25, developed a dry cough and lost his sense of taste, he went for a job interview at another restaurant.

Three days later, when Lau went for a swab test, he tested positive for COVID-19.

Lau, a Malaysian currently on a long-term visit pass, was jailed for five months on Monday (21 February), after he pleaded guilty to two counts under the Infectious Diseases Act for exposing others to the risk of infection by his presence in public places despite being issued with a medical certificate. Two similar charges were considered for his sentencing.

Lau was then a chef at Napoleon Food & Wine Bar located along Telok Ayer Street during the offences in early 2020.

Lau visited Heartland Health Clinic at Circuit Road on 31 March 2020 after developing a fever, cough and runny nose. He was diagnosed with an upper respiratory tract infection and was issued a medical certificate from 31 March to 4 April 2020.

His MC stated that Lau was required by law to stay home for five days and the doctor also stressed to him of the legal requirement.

Upon leaving the clinic, Lau had lunch at a nearby food centre.

The next day Lau left his house for work, meeting a colleague at Telok Ayer MRT station. This colleague advised him against going to work, but Lau ignored the advice.

Lau worked from 10.30am to 11pm in the kitchen with the colleague while he was wearing a mask.

On 2 April 2020, Lau developed a dry cough and lost his sense of taste, but it did not deter him from leaving his house for lunch at Circuit Road Food Centre the next day.

Lau and the colleague, both of whom were looking a new job, learned from Lau’s wife that there was a vacancy at a restaurant called Picotin at Fairways Drive. Lau arranged for a job interview for himself and his colleague on 4 April.

On the day of the interview, the pair met at Mattar MRT station where they took a private hire car to Picotin and had an interview with the restaurant manager for half an hour. The duo then took a cab to Napoleon as the colleague needed to work.

Even though Lau was off, he stayed at the restaurant to drink and chat with his colleague. During this chat, Lau told the colleague that he suspected he had COVID-19 since 2 April when he had a dry cough. His colleague advised him to do a swab test as soon as he could and Lau left the restaurant for home.

Lau went to Geylang East Polyclinic for a swab test on 6 April and was notified of his positive result on the same day. He was conveyed via ambulance to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases on 7 April and was discharged on 19 April.

Lau’s wife and their domestic helper were also infected with COVID-19. The colleague was on quarantine as he was deemed a close contact of Lau, but he was not infected.

His lawyer, Anil Singh Sandhu, said that it was only after Lau’s colleague informed him that his mother’s friend had lost her sense of taste and tested positive for COVID-19 that Lau researched and realised that loss of taste was a symptom for the disease. The lawyer suggested that at that time, losing sense of taste was not yet a well-known symptom of COVID-19.

However, District Judge Toh Han Li said the court was relying on Lau’s dry cough symptom, rather than his sense of taste.

Sandhu also asked the court to consider that Lau was relatively young and did not appreciate the gravity of his actions. Lau had assisted the investigating officer by disclosing the details of his movement at a time when there was no TraceTogether app in place, the lawyer said. Lau would be separated from his wife, who is based in Singapore, upon his conviction as he would have to return to Malaysia.

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