Probation report called for teen who lied that he had COVID-19 on Instagram

·Senior Reporter
·3-min read
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 teenager who wanted to prank his friends posted on Instagram that he had contracted COVID-19, posting a photo of a positive coronavirus test result and another photo of himself lying on a hospital bed even though he was not infected.

Siew Hanlong's prank caused alarm to an acquaintance, who was serving his national service at Pulau Tekong. The acquaintance learned about the posts and became concerned that he could have contracted COVID-19 as he had met Siew earlier.

The acquaintance ended up leaving Pulau Tekong and a disinfection was carried out for the bunk he stayed in. Siew, 19, who is studying for a diploma, later confessed that his posts were a joke.

A probation suitability report was called for Siew on Tuesday (2 November), after he pleaded guilty to two counts of communicating a false message. He will return to court on 14 December for his sentencing.

On 23 May this year, Siew decided to prank his friends by posting on Instagram that he had contracted COVID-19. He searched online for pictures of positive polymerase chain reaction tests and saved one of them in his handphone. 

He then posted the photo of the test on his Instastory with the caption,"guys I got the new covid variant bye im gonna die”. Shortly after, he posted a second Instastory of an image of himself lying on a hospital bed with the caption, “in ICU right now farewell guys”. The latter image was taken when Siew was previously hospitalised for a condition unrelated to COVID-19.

He removed the false Instastories about 15 minutes after posting, but others had already seen the images. His acquaintance woke up and saw his friends discussing the posts in a WhatsApp group chat.

The acquaintance was concerned as he had met Siew before 23 May. Unable to get in touch with Siew, the acquaintance told his superiors that he was a close contact of Siew. He was told by the superiors to take a swab test and go home. The army also arranged for the isolation of others who had been in close contact with the acquaintance. 

The disinfection of the acquaintance's bunk disrupted the army training schedule for the day. Meanwhile, the acquaintance isolated himself at home in his room after leaving Pulau Tekong.

Later in the day, Siew replied his acquaintance to say that his posts had been a joke. The acquaintance then informed his superiors and his father about Siew's admission.

The prosecution said that it was not objecting to the calling of a probation suitability report. Probation is a rehabilitative sentencing option usually given to offenders between the ages of 16 and 21. The offender will not have a criminal record upon completing probation.

Siew’s mother addressed the court, saying that her son had just turned 19 and had a bright future ahead of him. She asked for Siew to be given a chance as it was his first brush with the law and he was remorseful.

District Judge Kessler Soh told Siew that his prank had “serious consequences” and asked if he would do such a thing again. Siew replied “no”.

For communicating a false message, a breach of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act, a person can be jailed up to three years, fined up to $10,000, or both. 

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