People gather in an outdoor seating area, with certain seats marked off for social distancing as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, in Chinatown in Singapore on April 1, 2020. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP) (AFP / Roslan Rahman)

Singaporean authorities refute hoax about 'spot fines' for people violating social distancing orders

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A post has been shared repeatedly in multiple posts on Facebook which claim that Singapore has started enforcing spot fines for people who flout certain social distancing regulations during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The claim is false; the Singaporean government agency overseeing the enforcement of the social distancing order refuted the claim; there is no mention of spot fines for offenders in the recently announced government regulations.

The post was published here on Facebook on March 27, 2020.

Written in both Malay and English, it reads: “Berhati2 … Beware !!! Take note of this, From my friend : “Yup, I was at Ya Kun Compass1 on Wed, 1 of their customers was fined $300 for sitting in the (crossed) space?/ They are very serious about it. Good to help out one another. Please let your friends know when u eat out w them, no don’t give chance anymore. $300 is a lot of money for fine ? So don’t sit on the tape with ( / ) or ( X ) ya. Same as queuing up.”

Below is a screenshot of the misleading Facebook post:

Screenshot of misleading Facebook post

Ya Kun refers to Ya Kun Kaya Toast, a Singaporean cafe franchise, and Compass1 refers to this shopping mall in Singapore. 

“X space” is a reference to seats marked with a cross in certain establishments in Singapore that are required to be kept empty as per government guidelines on social distancing. According to this AFP report dated March 27, 2020, Singapore has issued “a ban on individuals standing less than one metre (three feet) apart in certain settings” in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19. 

A similar claim was also shared here, here, here, here, here and here on Facebook.

The claim is false. In response to the misleading posts, Enterprise Singapore, one of the government agencies overseeing the implementation of the social distancing order in the country, issued this statement on its Facebook page on March 27, 2020.

It reads, in part: “There is a rumour circulating on social media and via text messaging platforms claiming that an Enterprise Singapore safe distancing ambassador had imposed a fine on an individual, for sitting on a seat that was marked out as not to be occupied.

“This is FALSE. Safe distancing ambassadors are deployed by various government agencies to guide and ensure that businesses implement and comply with the safe distancing measures. They do not impose fines.”

On March 26, 2020, Singapore’s Ministry of Health announced stricter "safe distancing measures" to be in place until April 30, 2020, to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. It states that any offenders of the order, under the Infectious Diseases Act, face “a fine of up to SGD$10,000 (US$7,000) or imprisonment of up to six months or both”.

Following the announcement, Enterprise Singapore issued this statement on Facebook on March 28, 2020 detailing how “surveillance and enforcement” will be implemented by the agency. There is no mention of an on-the-spot fine in the release. 

It reads, in part: “Our personnel, with the Safe Distancing Ambassadors, first assess the safe distancing measures implemented by the businesses and offer guidance if these are not up to mark. Businesses are given 1-2 days to comply with the recommended measures, after which another check will be conducted.

“If the measures are still not implemented, ESG and SFA will issue an official warning letter to the business owner. Following this, a third visit will be made for further checks on compliance. Businesses that are found to have violated the Infectious Diseases Act and regulations promulgated thereunder may be liable for an offence and charged.”

SFA refers to the Singapore Food Agency, the agency overseeing food safety in Singapore.