Saturday, 29 February 2020

COVID-19: Singapore won't hesitate to act against those who flout measures to curb coronavirus, says Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam

Man who breached coronavirus stay-home notice stripped of Singapore PR status, barred from re-entry
China couple charged under Infectious Diseases Act for giving false information to Ministry of Health and obstruction of contact tracing
By Timothy Goh, The Straits Times, 28 Feb 2020

The authorities will not hesitate to take strong action against those who break the rules meant to contain the spread of the coronavirus here, Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

His comments come a day after it was announced that action has been taken against three Chinese nationals who flouted coronavirus containment measures here.

The first of the trio, a 45-year-old Singapore permanent resident (PR), breached his stay-home notice (SHN) requirements while he was here from Feb 20 to 23.

As a result, he was stripped of his PR status and barred from re-entering Singapore.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Shanmugam said: "He wilfully disregarded his SHN, which required him to remain at home at all times for 14 days. He was served with the SHN because he had travelled to China recently.

"He did not respond to phone calls and was also not at his declared residence when ICA officers conducted checks. He later insisted on leaving Singapore before the SHN was completed."

He added: "Some people said that this may be a bit harsh. But the deliberate breaking of the rules, in the current situation, calls for swift and decisive response."

The other two people, a couple from China, had been accused of giving false information to Ministry of Health (MOH) officials and obstructing contact tracing.

The man, a 38-year-old Chinese national from Wuhan known as Hu Jun, is case 16 here.

His wife, Shi Sha, is a 36-year-old Chinese national who lives here.

She was identified as a close contact and was issued a quarantine order on Feb 1 after MOH initiated contact tracing to identify those who may have been exposed to the infected person while he was symptomatic.

But the couple allegedly gave false information about their movements and whereabouts from Jan 22 to 29 when they were contacted for contact tracing, with Shi also providing false information while under quarantine.

However, detailed investigations uncovered the couple's true movements. They are due to be charged today under the Infectious Diseases Act.

"Contact tracing is an essential step in containing the virus," wrote Mr Shanmugam. "During this period, we need everyone to cooperate. People need to know that we will not hesitate to take strong action," he said.

China couple charged under Infectious Diseases Act with giving false info to MOH officials
They face up to six months in jail for allegedly obstructing contact tracing efforts
By Shaffiq Alkhatib, Court Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Feb 2020

A couple from China were charged in a district court yesterday with giving false information to Ministry of Health (MOH) officials amid the coronavirus outbreak - lies which obstructed the process of contact tracing.

Hu Jun, 38, who is from Wuhan - the epicentre of the Covid-19 disease outbreak - and his wife Shi Sha, 36, who lives in Singapore, were the first people to be charged under the Infectious Diseases Act in relation to the current outbreak.

In a statement on Wednesday, MOH had said that Hu arrived in Singapore on Jan 22 and was confirmed to be infected on Jan 31.

He recovered and was discharged from hospital on Feb 19.

His wife was identified as a close contact and issued a quarantine order on Feb 1, after MOH initiated contact tracing to identify those who may have been exposed to Hu while he was symptomatic.

The couple had allegedly given false information to MOH officials about their movements and whereabouts from Jan 22 to 29, when they were contacted during the quarantine period.

Shi faces four charges under the Act. According to court documents, Shi had been ordered to be isolated in a unit at the Loft @ Nathan condominium in Nathan Road, near River Valley Road.

The woman allegedly told health officer Georgina Lim several lies on Jan 30.

Among other things, she claimed she had not stayed in another unit at the same condominium.

Shi allegedly lied again two days later, claiming she had not stayed in a hotel.

Ms Lim was allegedly lied to twice on Feb 3, when Shi claimed that she had flagged down a blue taxi outside Loft @ Nathan on Jan 29 so that she and Hu could go to the Singapore General Hospital.

Hu, who faces one charge under the Act, is accused of giving false information to health officer Poh Cuiqin on Feb 1.

He allegedly lied to Ms Poh, claiming that apart from having dinner at Ion Orchard shopping mall on Jan 22 and walking around Loft @ Nathan two days later, he had stayed indoors at a unit there from Jan 22 to 29.

In its earlier statement, MOH had said it was able to determine the couple's true movements only through detailed investigations.

The ministry reminded the public that under the Act, it is an offence for anyone to withhold or provide inaccurate information to officials during contact tracing.

It added that it views such actions seriously and will not hesitate to take appropriate action against perpetrators.

The couple, who is represented by lawyer Chung Ting Fai, will be back in court on March 20.

Anyone convicted of an offence under the Infectious Diseases Act can be jailed for up to six months and fined up to $10,000 for the first offence.



MHA investigating Singapore chapter of secretive South Korean Shincheonji Church
Church at the heart of virus outbreak in South Korea used 'deceptive methods' here
By Charmaine Ng and Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 29 Feb 2020

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is looking to ban activities of the unregistered Singapore chapter of a secretive church at the centre of South Korea's coronavirus outbreak.

Five South Korean nationals and two Singaporeans are helping MHA with their investigations, the ministry said yesterday.

The South Korean church is known as the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (SCJ). Out of South Korea's 2,300-odd coronavirus cases, 840 are linked to the church.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the group, which he said has fewer than 100 members here, is being investigated under "national security legislation".

He added that while people here are free to believe in any religion, the Government will step in when "it crosses the line into criminality or potential public security issues".

"There was reason to believe that people were being misled and defrauded into certain actions, and the cult was behind it even though they put up front companies to carry out their actions," he said.

He added that the threat to Singapore currently is not high because the group's activities were picked up fairly quickly. "But we think the activities would be inimical to the broader public if (the group is) allowed to carry on."

The church allegedly regards all other churches and pastors as belonging to Satan.

MHA said: "SCJ teaches that it is acceptable to use deceit and lies if it serves God's purposes. It has been accused of infiltrating and disrupting established Korean churches by using deception and secrecy to trick people into becoming involved with them."

MHA also said the Singapore chapter of the church had used "similar deceptive methods", such as using front entities to target Christian youth and young adults to join their group.

"A controlling influence is then exerted over these young members, requiring them to comply with strict instructions to conceal the local existence of SCJ and their involvement with it," said MHA.

"Members are not allowed to contact one another, verify teachings with other churches or inform their families of their involvement."

The ministry said its investigations started as early as February last year, when the church's local chapter tried to register a company in Singapore under the name of Heavenly Culture, World Peace and Restoration of Light.

MHA objected to the registration of the company.

Investigations later found that the church had previously incorporated another front company called Spasie, which claimed to offer consultancy services.

The church also recently set up a sole proprietorship called Kings Ave. MHA said this is "a front, to lease property for use as a 'temple' ".

Checks by The Straits Times on the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority's website showed Spasie was incorporated on Dec 8, 2016. It has two listed directors and a secretary - all Singaporeans - and two shareholders - a South Korean and a South African.

Meanwhile, Kings Ave was incorporated on Dec 31 last year, and lists a Singapore citizen as the sole proprietor. It has since ceased registration.

MHA stepped up investigations after the church's practices were linked to the outbreak in Daegu.

It added, however, that members here who have been interviewed so far have not been in recent physical contact with people from the Daegu cluster.

Four of the South Koreans assisting the investigations entered Singapore before the outbreak of the virus in Daegu and Cheongdo. The fifth person came into Singapore on Feb 21, but the Ministry of Health's checks indicate that she is well, said MHA.

Spasie's office, located in Ubi, was closed when The Straits Times visited yesterday. Staff from a neighbouring unit said loud music was often heard from the unit on weekends. One staff member added that he often saw teenagers entering and leaving the place.

Ultra-secret South Korean cult's tactics in Singapore mirror those used elsewhere
The Straits Times, 29 Feb 2020

It is a religious group that operated in secret, luring Christian youth and young adults via a front, and then compelling them to keep the group's existence a secret.

Recruited members were not allowed to contact one another, verify teachings with other churches or speak to their families about the group's activities.

This was how members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus operated in secrecy here, including setting up companies under the guise of providing consultancy services or workshops.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said this in a statement yesterday, revealing the workings of the ultra-secret religious cult in Singapore.

Its modus operandi here mirrors tactics it has used elsewhere in the world.

The group, whose name in full is the "Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony", originated in South Korea.

It is also at the centre of the country's coronavirus outbreak in the city of Daegu. The church is linked to 840 of the around 2,300 cases in South Korea.

Shincheonji, in the Korean language, means "new heaven and earth". Founded in 1984 by religious leader Lee Man-hee, the church is widely seen as a heretical Christian group which claims to have more than 200,000 adherents around the world. It is not officially recognised in Singapore.

So far, five South Koreans and two Singaporeans are assisting in ongoing investigations, said MHA. The group has fewer than 100 members here, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

Among the group's radical beliefs is one which says that its founder Lee is the second coming of Jesus Christ, and that he will take 144,000 followers to Heaven with him on Judgment Day.

The church's website also describes him as an angel of Jesus.

"Shincheonji followers believe Lee Man-hee is immortal and has an eternal life," Professor Tark Ji-il, an expert in heretical Christian groups at Busan Presbyterian University in South Korea, told the Associated Press news agency.

"To propagate their belief, they often approach their relatives and acquaintances or sneak to other churches without telling them they are Shincheonji members."

In South Korea, Shincheonji is organised into "12 tribes", each named after one of Jesus' disciples.

On its website, the church says its has 300 mission centres in 15 countries, including the United States, China, Australia, Japan and the Philippines. It opened a branch in Wuhan, China, last year.

The website goes on to say that hundreds of pastors have renounced their ordainment to join Shincheonji.

But Shincheonji has also come under intense criticism in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea.

Over a million South Koreans have signed an online petition calling for the forcible dissolution of the shadowy group after reports emerged that Shincheonji members were uncooperative and hampered the health authorities' efforts to trace and contain the outbreak.

The group's critics say it teaches a distorted theology centred on the end of the world, brainwashes its followers and breaks families apart.

There are many reports on how members cut ties with their families after joining the church.

Critics also say that Shincheonji claims its teachings are a "superior truth" to that offered by mainstream churches.

Reports on how the group operates often say members infiltrate mainstream churches and use deceptive methods to lure young converts, in some cases inviting them to Bible study sessions.

In 2016, the Church of England issued an alert to about 500 parishes in London about a Shincheonji-linked charity that was recruiting churchgoers.


Singapore to bar visitors from Cheongdo and Daegu, South Korea from 26 February 2020, 2359 hours
By Timothy Goh, The Straits Times, 26 Feb 2020

Singapore will bar new visitors with recent travel history to Cheongdo county and Daegu city in South Korea from 11.59pm, 26 February, as the number of coronavirus cases in these areas continues to climb.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs a multi-ministry task force tackling the coronavirus with Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, said returning Singapore citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders with recent travel history to Cheongdo and Daegu within the last 14 days will be issued stay-home notices.

This means that they will not be allowed to leave their homes for 14 days after they return to Singapore.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) also announced that from 11.59pm, 26 February, all work pass holders with recent travel history to the two regions will need to get approval before entering Singapore.

Workers who received in-principle approval for their work passes but have yet to enter Singapore, and their dependants, will also need this approval.

All affected work pass holders who return to Singapore will have to stay at their place of residence here for 14 days.

When applying for affected workers' entry approval, employers must declare to MOM that they have arranged for suitable premises to house these returning employees during the 14-day stay-home notice period.

Employers are required to apply for entry approval for their workers online, which will be available from 8am today.

Employers should inform their affected employees, including their dependants, if any, not to make travel plans to Singapore until approval has been given.

Employers must also send MOM's approval letter to the affected employees, who will need to show it to airline staff when they check in and at the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority's checkpoint when they arrive here.

Universities here have taken precautions as well, suspending exchange programmes to South Korea and advising their students there to come back.

The Ministry of Health had earlier already advised travellers to avoid non-essential travel to Daegu and Cheongdo, and to take precautions when travelling to the rest of South Korea.

South Korea, where 10 have died, has raised its virus alert to red - the highest - as the number of cases continues to spike, with a total of 977 at last count.

At least 511 cases are linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu, and 113 cases are from Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo.

With the growing number of cases in South Korea, visitors and returning travellers pose a heightened risk, said Mr Gan.

Asked how many Singaporeans are in Daegu and Cheongdo, and whether there are plans to evacuate them, director of medical services Kenneth Mak said it did not have information about the number of Singaporeans in those places.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is trying to find out and, if necessary, is prepared to provide consular assistance, he added.

Ministry of Manpower rejects 500 applications for work-pass holders' re-entry into Singapore daily, up from 400
MOM acts against more workers and bosses over LOA breaches
By Jean Iau, The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2020

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has taken action against 10 more work pass holders and suspended the privileges of nine more employers for breaching leave of absence (LOA) requirements between Feb 10 and yesterday.

MOM said in a statement that as of yesterday, it has taken action against a total of 14 work pass holders and 15 employers.

Of the 10 work pass holders who most recently flouted the rules, six had their passes revoked.

Among the six, one foreign worker had his work pass revoked and is permanently banned from employment here after he was caught visiting a casino.

Two workers said they were not aware of the LOA requirements, despite being informed earlier. Their work passes were revoked, and they were permanently banned from employment here. Their employers' work pass privileges were suspended for two years.

Three workers did not respond to repeated calls by MOM. It revoked their work passes and suspended the work pass privileges of the two employers involved for failing to ensure that their workers were contactable during the LOA period.

For the other four workers who did not have their passes revoked, they were given stern warnings.

Three of these cases involved workers on LOA who were instructed by their employers to report to work. MOM has suspended their employers' work pass privileges for three years. These companies are freight forwarding firm Element Logistics, architecture firm SCDA Design, and manufacturing firm Cham Brothers Engineering.

The fourth foreign worker was given a stern warning for being out of his residence for a prolonged period of time after his meal.

MOM also said yesterday that it has rejected about 500 applications a day for work pass holders with travel history to mainland China to return to Singapore, since new measures to help contain the coronavirus outbreak kicked in on Feb 9.

This is higher than the 400 daily rejections in the first week after the measures were implemented.

The ministry said it now approves 220 applications on average daily. This is slightly higher than the daily average of 200 in the first week after the entry approval requirements kicked in.

It has also since revoked the work passes of 11 workers who breached entry approval requirements by entering Singapore despite failing to get approval. They were sent back to their home countries and permanently banned from working here. Their employers' work pass privileges were also suspended for a year.

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