Man, 64, jailed for entering office while Covid-19 positive & coughing at colleagues 'as a joke'

One of his colleagues was a dialysis patient who suffered from both cardiac and renal issues

Daniel Seow | September 20, 2023, 02:10 PM


WhatsappA 64-year-old man took an antigen rapid test (ART) at work when he didn't feel well and found himself to be Covid-19 positive.

Instead of going home, Tamilselvam Ramaiya went to look for his manager in the office and was asked to leave by a supervisor who made a gesture to mimic "kicking him out".

While leaving, he took down his mask and coughed around the office. He also coughed at a colleague one arm's length away while wearing his mask.

He claimed it was a joke.

He was sentenced to two weeks' imprisonment after pleading guilty on Sep. 18, 2023, to violating Covid-19 regulations.

Tested positive when reporting for work

According to court documents, Tamilselvam worked as a cleaner on Oct. 18, 2021, when the offences were committed.

That morning, he reported to work but was experiencing a runny nose.

He informed his company's assistant logistics manager, who asked him to take an ART test at about 10:20am.

A colleague helped him with the test, and the result showed that he had tested positive for Covid-19.

The cleaner was then instructed to return home and update his manager on the positive ART result.

Returned to the office to cough with mask lowered

However, he did not go home immediately.

Instead, at about 10:30am, Tamilselvam went to the company's logistics office to look for his manager in person.

He stepped into the office together with another colleague.

Another supervisor saw them entering the office together and immediately asked the colleague not to stay near Tamilselvan.

The supervisor asked Tamilselvan to leave immediately and mimicked the act of "kicking him out".

Tamilselvam complied and exited the office but then reopened the door and coughed into the office twice with his mask on.

After the supervisor closed the door with his leg, Tamilselvam opened the door again. This time, he lowered his mask and coughed into the office a third time.

The whole process of opening and shutting doors and coughing was captured by the office's CCTV.

Opened a window to cough at another victim

While he was finally leaving, Tamilselvam passed by one of the windows of the office near where another 56-year-old female colleague was sitting.

He opened the window from the outside and coughed in the colleague's direction with his mask on from about one arm's length away.

He also said, "kena Covid, kena Covid," while doing so. "Kena", used colloquially, means to be on the receiving end.

This alarmed the victim, a dialysis patient with cardiac and renal issues.

She was so alarmed she decided to quickly administer an ART for herself.

However, no one else in the office contracted Covid-19 as a result of the incident.

Tamilselvam's manager lodged a police report on the same night.

Went to a polyclinic to confirm he had Covid-19

During investigations, Tamilselvam claimed that he had coughed at the two victims as a "joke".

He said he did not treat his positive result seriously and visited the polyclinic to confirm if he contracted Covid-19.

He was given three days of medical leave and received a message from the Ministry of Health to quarantine at home the next day.

'A wanton disregard for the safety of his colleagues': Prosecution

The prosecution asked for a deterrent sentence of 3-4 weeks' imprisonment for the accused, asserting that his actions reflected "a wanton disregard for the safety of his colleagues".

"The sole reason why the accused lowered his mask was to cough at his colleagues, thus enhancing the risk of his colleagues contracting Covid-19 from him. He thereby acted in reckless disregard as to whether he would infect others during the breach," the prosecutor added.

She pointed out that this was at a time when "Singapore was experiencing a fresh surge of Covid-19 cases".

In mitigation, the defence stated that the accused meant his actions as a "joke".

However, the prosecutor said, "it was no laughing matter", especially since he knew he had a positive ART result.

"It is evident that he disobeyed express instructions to leave the premises and instead deliberately returned to cough in the direction of his colleagues," the prosecutor said.

"It is entirely fortuitous that the accused's colleagues did not contract Covid-19 from this incident," she added.

Top image by Mothership