SINGAPORE, Aug 18 — After returning to Singapore from India on the same flight in March, Bojanki Suresh Naidu and Bharati Tulshiram Choudhari were placed on a stay-home notice on the same floor in Oasia Hotel Novena.
The pair, who did not know each other before this, began communicating when he called her room. They soon arranged for him to collect snacks from her room and chat.
When they were caught, Suresh, 37, lied that he had left his hotel room to get fresh air. Bharati, 48, also lied to the authorities that he had knocked on her door for help.
Yesterday, the two Singapore permanent residents (PRs) were each jailed for three weeks.
They both pleaded guilty to one charge of breaching their two-week stay-home notice, which they had to serve in line with regulations to curb the spread of Covid-19.
In sentencing Suresh, District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt considered a second charge of him failing to wear a face mask when he left his room to go to Bharati’s.
The court heard that they had individually booked flights back to Singapore on March 14 via the low-cost airline Air India Express.
A second wave of the delta variant of the coronavirus had just exploded in India, culminating in record-breaking numbers of infections and deaths, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Kenneth Kee told the court.
The World Health Organisation has classified the variant as having increased transmissibility with an increased risk of hospitalisation for those infected, compared to the original virus.
When Suresh and Bharati arrived at Changi Airport, an Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officer served the stay-home notice on them, explaining that they were not allowed to leave their designated hotel rooms or have visitors.
Both acknowledged the conditions and were taken to Oasia Hotel Novena near Novena MRT Station.
Lied that he left room to take a walk
The two of them soon became acquainted with each other, as their rooms were close by on the same floor.
Suresh first dialled the phone number of Bharati’s hotel room before they exchanged mobile numbers. They then came up with a plan for him to go to her room.
DPP Kee said: “This meeting was purportedly for Suresh to collect snacks from Bharati, and for them to chat.”
At about 12.30am on March 20, Suresh left his room without wearing a mask. Bharati let him in and he stayed there for about half an hour before leaving.
Suresh then unsuccessfully tried to re-enter his room, before going back to Bharati’s and staying there for another five minutes.
After realising that he had been locked out, he used his mobile phone to call for help from the hotel’s staff members.
A security officer arrived and asked what had happened. Suresh then claimed that he had breathing difficulties and had left his room to get fresh air.
The matter was then referred to ICA for investigations.
DPP Kee said that when the pair spoke to the investigation officer, they both lied “in an attempt to portray their meeting as accidental”.
Suresh said that he had consumed two cans of beer and started to feel suffocated while confined to his room, so he left his room to walk along the corridor before realising he had been locked out.
He then claimed he had knocked on Bharati’s door for help. Bharati also said the same.
However, closed-circuit television footage from the hotel corridor revealed that Suresh had not taken such a walk. Both of their doors also simultaneously opened at 12.30am, which indicated a coordinated plan.
DPP Kee added: “Given the potential for Covid-19 to spread via asymptomatic transmission and having travelled internationally from a country afflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic prior to their entry into Singapore, coupled with the (stay-home notice) and the attendant requirements that were imposed upon them, the accused persons each had reason to suspect that Suresh was a carrier of Covid-19.”
‘Very sorry’ for mistakes
DPP Kee sought at least three to four weeks’ jail for the pair.
He argued that their lies to the authorities, coupled with their return to Singapore at the height of the second wave of infections in India, raised their culpability in comparison to a similar case involving a Briton and his Singaporean fiancee last September.
Neither Bharati nor Suresh had a lawyer.
In mitigation, she said that she had made an “honest mistake” and understood the risks of letting Suresh into her room.
She promised not to re-offend and said that she had been in Singapore for 11 years.
“I have never done such a wrong act, which has brought embarrassment to my family. I realise I should have handled the situation in a better way,” she added.
Suresh — who is married with two children — said that he has lived and worked here for over a decade and was “very sorry” for his mistake.
He added that he had felt tired and hungry after a long day of working in his room, as well as waiting for calls from his family in India.
He claimed that he had first got to know Bharati the day before the incident when he called her room.
“I’m very sorry for the situation I created for her and her family, despite her helping me,” he told District Judge Chay.
He also said that he had tested negative for Covid-19 and initially lied out of fear.
He will begin serving his sentence on September 14, while Bharati will do so on August 31.
They could have been jailed for up to six months or fined up to S$10,000 (RM31,119.61), or both, for breaking Covid-19 laws. — TODAY