COVID-19: False case of safe-distancing fine at Ya Kun
In March 2020, the Singapore government announced that eateries must ensure a distance of one metre between diners at their establishments. In late March, safe-distancing ambassadors were deployed to remind both patrons and businesses of this measure. In light of this measure, a false message of an individual being fined $300 at Ya Kun's Compass One outlet circulated on Whatsapp and subsequently, Facebook.
Origins of the rumour
The rumour first circulated on Whatsapp before making its rounds on Facebook around 27 March 2020. Some examples of the fake news on Facebook can be viewed here, here, here and here. In all the Facebook posts, there is a paragraph with the following warning:
They are very serious about it. Good to help out one another. Please let your friends know when u eat out w them, they don’t give chance anymore. $300 is hell lot of money for fine 😱 So don’t sit on the tape with ( / ) or ( X ) ya. Same as queue up.
The individual’s alleged offence was sitting on a seat marked with an X at Ya Kun’s Compass One outlet. The two running claims in the rumours are listed below.
Claim 1: Customer fined at Ya Kun, Compass One
The rumour alleged that a customer had been fined at Ya Kun for sitting on a seat marked for safe-distancing purposes.
Claim 2: Fined by a safe-distancing ambassador
The rumour implied that a safe-distancing ambassador had the authority to issue a fine to members of the public.*
*Disclaimer: The role of an ambassador has changed since the rumour. As of 20 April 2020, safe-distancing ambassadors can issue $300 fines to first-time offenders of safe-distancing measures. However, this was not the case at the time of the rumour.
Claim 1: Debunked by Ya Kun
It was prominently stated in numerous posts that this incident happened at Ya Kun Kaya Toast’s outlet at Compass One in Sengkang. On 28 March, Ya Kun stated that “no such incident happened” at their outlet. This disproves the basis of the message.
Claim 2: Debunked by Enterprise Singapore
Enterprise Singapore refuted the allegation through a Facebook post dated 27 March 2020. They clarified the role of distancing ambassadors, stating the following:
(i) Ambassadors are to guide and ensure that businesses implement and comply with the safe distancing measures.
(ii) Ambassadors do not impose fines.
This rumour circulated in March. At the time, safe-distancing ambassadors could not yet issue fines to members of the public. Instead, businesses that are found to have breached the Infectious Diseases Act (IDA) can be charged in court for their offence. The owners of such businesses can be jailed for up to six months and/or pay a fine of up to S$10,000.
- "Tightened Safe Distancing Measures". Enterprise Singapore. March 19, 2020. Updated on 20 April 2020. Accessed on 20 April 2020.
- Vernice. “NEA Hiring Safe Distancing Ambassadors For $2,500 A Month, They’ll Be Deployed To Hawker Centres”. MustShare News. March 31, 2020. Accessed on 20 April 2020.
- Goh, Yan Han and Wong, Lester. “Coronavirus: $300 fine for flouting circuit breaker measures”. The Straits Times. April 12, 2020. Accessed on 20 April 2020.
- “SG Clean Ambassadors Network Launched To Promote The Adoption Of 7 Habits Of Good Public Hygiene, New Social Norms For Different Settings, And Safe Distancing Requirements”. National Environment Agency. March 29, 2020. Accessed on 20 April 2020.
- "Singaporean authorities refute hoax about 'spot fines' for people violating social distancing orders". AFP Singapore. April 3, 2020. Accessed on 20 April 2020.
- “S$300 fine for flouting circuit breaker measures, no more warnings: Masagos”. Channel News Asia. April 11, 2020. Accessed on 20 April 2020.
- “Enterprise Singapore refutes online rumour of safe-distancing ambassador issuing fines”. Intellasia. March 30, 2020. Accessed on 17 April 2020.
- Ya Kun Kaya Toast. “Dear All, For those who may have seen the WhatsApp message about an individual...”. Facebook. March 28, 2020. Accessed on 17 April 2020.
- Enterprise Singapore. “[Rumour of Safe Distancing Ambassadors imposing fine]”. Facebook. March 27, 2020. Accessed on 17 April 2020.
- “Message circulating online about safe-distancing ambassadors imposing fines untrue: Enterprise Singapore”. Channel News Asia. March 28, 2020. Accessed on 17 April 2020.
- “Jail terms, fines for those who breach COVID-19 safe-distancing rules, stay-home notice”. Channel News Asia. March 27, 2020. Accessed on 20 April 2020.