On Wednesday (29 June), a 42-year-old man was fined S$5,000 for lying that he had COVID-19 for the sake of getting out of a voluntary research study by Nanyang Technological University.
Paul Chan Kin Nang pleaded guilty to one charge of transmitting a false message under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act.
The offender was also ordered by the court to compensate the university S$349 for the logistical changes they had to make because of the disruptions caused by his lie.
Of all the lies he could have told, he chose the most dangerous one at the wrong time…
Why The Lie?
For context, Chan had signed up to be a paid research participant for an NTU study on mental processes in decision-making in the last quarter of 2020.
Participants were informed that they could withdraw from the study at any time without penalty. They didn’t even have to provide a convincing reason to substantiate why they wished to withdraw from the study, since participation was voluntary.
The monetary compensation in thanks of the participant’s time isn’t something that can be lost when the money wasn’t even yours in the first place.
Chan completed the first session of the research study on 1 September 2020.
The second session was scheduled for 7 September 2020.
One day before the second session, one of the researchers e-mailed Chan to remind him about it.
A few hours later, Chan replied, “Hi, I am unable to attend the session tomorrow as I am (sic) tested positive for COVID-19 and is now quarantine (sic) in hospital.”
This excuse is as terrible as his grammar.
Chan had not tested positive for COVID-19.
The only illness he came down with that day was probably laziness, the common symptoms being procrastination and the unwillingness to attend activities.
As a casual reminder, the National COVID-19 Vaccination Programme didn’t start until 30 December 2020.
Which means that contact tracing was very much a thing, and between the first and second session, there were only six days, thus placing everyone who was in proximity with Chan at risk, depending on which day he got COVID-19, hypothetically.
The same evening, the researcher responded to Chan, asking when his symptoms first started and when he tested positive, since the team had to report it to the university.
Chan ghosted her, and the researcher immediately alerted the team.
Chan: My E-mail was Hacked
On the morning of 7 September 2020, the NTU administration manager e-mailed Chan, requesting his COVID-19 case number and whether he was showing any symptoms.
She explained that they needed the information because NTU had to check with the Ministry of Education (MOE) on what follow-up actions were necessary for the research staff who had been in contact with him.
Upon seeing the e-mail, Paul Chan—who is working as a civil servant by the way—realised that the government authorities would be getting involved.
It was at this moment, Chan knew, he f**ked up.
In an attempt to salvage the situation, he replied claiming that his e-mail had been hacked and someone had sent the previous e-mail to NTU without his authorisation.
“Please be assured that I am perfectly fine,” he wrote.
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When The Lie is Exposed
Later that day, the Health Ministry told NTU that Chan was not in its record of COVID-19 cases.
The NTU administration manager proceeded to lodge a police report on 9 September 2020.
According to the court documents, Chan confessed to the police that he didn’t want to turn up for the second session, but he didn’t want to “formally reject NTU’s reminder” either.
Dude, couldn’t you have said you had a headache or personal affairs to attend to instead?
Even primary school students know how to go to polyclinics to get MCs.
While Chan was fine on 6 and 7 September, the research team were decidedly not.
NTU had placed two staff members on leave of absence, causing them unnecessary worry and distress, until the Health Ministry clarified that Chan was not among the existing COVID-19 cases.
Due to the false alarm, research activities and data collection on NTU’s campus were suspended on 7 September 2020, the disruption lasting two full weeks before research activities could officially resume.
Furthermore, research staff had to reschedule and follow up with all research participants, until Chan’s message was proven false.
The Prosecution’s Argument
Hence, Deputy Public Prosecutor R Arvindren called for the imposition of a fine, arguing that Chan’s actions were “plain irresponsible” and “inexplicable” since he could have just withdrawn from the study.
DDP Arvindren continued to point out the accused wasn’t attending a compulsory event like work or school, and there would have been no consequences if he chose to withdraw.
“There was no benefit to anybody, even the accused himself, when the accused resorted to this specific lie.”
DPP Arvindren also noted that Chan had told his lie at a time when COVID-19 vaccines weren’t even created or approved yet. Plus, the earlier variants of COVID=19 were more fatal.
For the same reasons, there was considerable distress about contact with positive cases.
(The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was only approved and made available on 11 December 2020. The more you know.)
However, the prosecutor conceded that Chan’s action had “little potential” to cause wider public alarm and wasted little public resources.
Defence lawyer Josiah Zee also sought a fine for his client, stating that Chan’s actions might have been “foolish” but there was no malicious intent behind it.
He also brought up a report from an Institute of Mental Health psychiatrist, who had found that Chan had sent the false message because he was worried he might leave a bad impression on the researchers.
Don’t worry, Mr Chan, their impression of you is worse now.
In fact, you might be on the NTU’s research blacklist, if such a thing exists.
General observations gathered from his colleagues’ testimonials have shown that he was a person of good character.
Moreover, the lawyer claimed that his client was willing to compensate NTU for the monetary loss incurred.
The charge Chan pleaded guilty to is an offence that was added to the Miscellaneous Act in January of last year.
He could have been jailed up to three years, given a maximum fine of S$10,000, or both, for transmitting the false message.
Take care of the excuses you conceive, because it might have unintended consequences.
Having to pay $5,349 for a single lie…
Yeah, it’s not worth it at all.
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