Jail for pest control technician who refused swab test, MC as he wanted S$100 work incentive
SINGAPORE: A pest control technician who suffered from a cough for three weeks went to a doctor and was told to take a COVID-19 swab test and stay home during the period of his medical leave.
However, the 60-year-old man refused to do so, telling the doctor he would have to forfeit a S$100 work incentive from his company if he took medical leave.
He continued to work the next day and went on job calls at five locations, including at a police station.
A Rahim M Taha was jailed for five weeks on Tuesday (Jan 18). He pleaded guilty to one count of exposing others to the risk of infection of COVID-19 under the Infectious Diseases Act.
The court heard that Rahim was a team supervisor at a pest control company, earning S$1,500 per month in basic salary. If he fulfilled certain conditions including not taking any medical leave during the month, he would be given an additional S$100 allowance per month.
Rahim visited Yishun Polyclinic on Oct 5, 2020 and told his doctor that he had a cough for about three weeks. His temperature at the clinic was 37.4 degrees Celsius.
The doctor told Rahim that he had to go for an X-ray and a COVID-19 swab test.
DOCTOR AND NURSE TRY TO PERSUADE HIM
Rahim initially agreed, but when a nurse told him that he had to stay home on medical leave pending his swab test result, he said he no longer wished to be swabbed as he wanted to go to work.
The doctor explained to him that his cough was a symptom of upper respiratory tract infection, and that he would be given three days’ medical leave during which he could not leave his home until the swab test came back negative.
Rahim told the doctor that he did not want to take a swab test. The doctor told him that he would have to give him five days’ medical leave instead if he did not take a test, and he could not leave his home during this time.
Rahim refused both the medical certificate and the swab test.
He told the doctor that he would not qualify for a work incentive if he were to take time off and asked who would compensate the S$100 to him if he accepted the medical leave, said the prosecutor.
The doctor warned Rahim that it was against the law for him to refuse a swab test when he had a symptom of upper respiratory tract infection, and that the matter would be reported to the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Rahim replied that he did not mind being reported to MOH.
The doctor spoke to MOH on the phone and tried to persuade Rahim again to take the swab test or accept five days’ medical leave.
Rahim refused and left the polyclinic after collecting his medication. It is not known if he was positive for COVID-19 at the time, as he had refused the swab test.
That same day, the doctor filed a report with MOH.
HE TRAVELLED TO NUMEROUS LOCATIONS
The next morning, Rahim went to work. He picked up a colleague using the company van at around 8.30am before meeting another colleague.
The team traveled around the island to five locations to inspect potential rodent infestations.
When they were in Geylang Road, a National Environment Agency (NEA) officer noticed Rahim coughing very badly and feared that he was infected with COVID-19.
He told Rahim to go home as he was afraid Rahim would infect his colleagues and himself if he continued to work. Rahim drove home at about 3.25pm.
During the day, officers from MOH’s Surveillance and Enforcement Branch also called Rahim and asked him to stay home while on medical leave.
He claimed he was at home, which was a lie.
The prosecutor asked for six to eight weeks’ jail, saying Rahim had symptoms associated with COVID-19.
“What is aggravating is that the suspect’s job required him to travel to numerous locations. He traveled to five locations in seven hours, including residential estates, a place for work and even a police station,” said the prosecutor.
He said Rahim potentially exposed the public to the risk of COVID-19, and also “engaged in a high-risk activity by having lunch with his colleagues in his van”.
“It is a high-risk activity because eating requires the removing of masks.”
He added that Rahim’s reason for wanting to go to work was neither essential nor urgent, and that he merely did not want to forfeit his S$100 work incentive.
In mitigation, Rahim asked for a lighter sentence, citing various illnesses he suffered including a blood clot, diabetes, a heart ailment and a liver problem.
He said that when he eventually did a swab test, it came back negative.
For exposing others to the risk of infection, he could have been jailed up to six months, fined up to S$10,000, or both.