Violent reactions to wearing of face masks spark concern
Experts also worry whether easing of some circuit breaker measures may lead to more flouting the law
One woman claimed to be above the law as "sovereign" and allegedly hit a person, another is accused of assaulting a police officer, and a man is facing an attempted murder rap over a stabbing incident.
They are among several recent violent cases linked to the current need to wear a face mask in public.
Why do some people object to the simple task of putting on a mask to protect themselves and others, and then turn violent when asked to do so?
Experts The New Paper spoke to were concerned and also somewhat perplexed.
To infectious diseases expert Leong Hoe Nam, there will always be some black sheep who refuse to follow the rules despite the advisories to do so and penalties for not doing so.
While he was unsure why some might become violent, he noted that such people are putting the larger public at unnecessary risk.
"There will always be people who disagree, and this may cause problems for the rest of society, but I don't think there's anything much more we can do about it," Dr Leong said.
"It's like illegal drugs. You can have harsh penalties, more advisories on their harmful effects, but there will always be some who will still abuse it."
On the whole, he said, the response from the majority in Singapore has been reasonable.
"I wish more people would stay at home, but I think the response so far is not too bad."
The multi-ministry taskforce announced on April 14 that wearing a mask would be mandatory in public, with some exceptions.
Those caught flouting the rules will be fined $300 for the first offence, with the fine rising to $1,000 for second-time offenders. More egregious cases will be prosecuted in court.
Last Sunday, a woman was caught on video refusing to wear a mask at Shunfu Mart, claiming she was "sovereign" and the rules did not apply to her. A physiotherapist, Paramjeet Kaur, 40, was later arrested for being a public nuisance, not wearing a mask, and assaulting a woman.
She is facing three counts of violating Covid-19 rules and one of being a public nuisance.
Last Thursday, another woman was filmed refusing to wear a mask at Sun Plaza and arguing with the police.
Kasturi Govindasamy Retnamswamy, 40, was arrested for allegedly hurting a police officer. She is facing five charges, including the use of abusive words and criminal force on a public servant.
Like Kaur, she had been fined previously for not wearing a mask. They have been remanded at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).
In the most extreme case here so far, Ahirrudin Al-Had Haji Arrifin, 61, was charged with attempted murder after allegedly stabbing a National Parks Board officer who had engaged him for not wearing a mask and cutting plants illegally at the Sungei Serangoon Park Connector last Monday.
Ahirrudin, who has a medical history at IMH, has been remanded at Changi Prison's Complex Medical Centre.
Similar incidents have been reported elsewhere, including the shooting death of a security guard at a store in Michigan, US, after he told a woman it was mandatory to wear a mask.
Psychologist Frances Yeo said there are several possible reasons aside from mental issues that might cause some to refuse to wear a mask.
"It could be optimism bias, stubbornness or even a wilful element," she said, noting that older people tend to be more cranky, and may even throw a fit.
"It's not surprising that even when the elderly know they are at greater risk, they will insist on going out and you can't stop them."
But clinical psychologist Carol Balhetchet said this defiant attitude is not exclusive to the elderly.
"For the elderly, it's like being the know-all, but for the youth, it's bravado," she said.
"The younger generation has not been exposed to disaster, has never experienced famine or war, and even Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and H1N1 weren't as dramatic."
She said youthful defiance is not always out of ill will.
"I recently saw a 12-year-old without a mask, who went to touch some elderly persons, saying 'see, now I infected you'.
"Such actions are in jest, and do not come from a place of maliciousness," she said.
With some circuit breaker measures expected to be relaxed from tomorrow, the experts were worried that more people might become lax too.
Criminal lawyer James Ow Yong said: "It is possible we may see more flouting the rules... (but) we certainly must not let our guard down."
He said that while it is difficult to understand why one would intentionally flout the rules, the law is clear on what cannot be tolerated and what the consequences are.
"The enforcement agencies have been sending a strong deterrent signal in the present climate," he said.
"Civic duty demands that one concerns himself with not just his own well-being but that of others as well.
"If he chooses his convenience at the expense of the safety of others, he can expect little mercy when the law eventually catches up with him."
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