SINGAPORE — An American cargo pilot who admitted to “poor judgment” in breaking a quarantine order to buy medical supplies became the first foreigner imprisoned in Singapore for breaching its restrictions meant to curb the coronavirus, his lawyer said Friday.
FedEx pilot Brian Dugan Yeargan, 44, of Alaska, was sentenced to four weeks Wednesday after he pleaded guilty to leaving his hotel room for three hours to buy masks and a thermometer, defense lawyer Ronnie Tan said.
Singapore has one of the largest outbreaks in Asia, with 26,000 cases. More than 90% of those infected are foreign workers living in crowded dormitories, while the government recently began easing restrictions for the local population.
The tiny city-state has strict penalties for those who breach quarantine rules, don’t masks in public or fail to adhere to social distancing measures. Quarantine violators face up to six months in jail, a fine of up to Singapore $10,000 ($7,000) or both.
Tan said Yeargan and his two co-pilots were taken to an airport hotel to serve 14-day quarantines upon arriving from Sydney on April 3. It was required because they stated in their health declarations they had visited China, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan and the United States in the two-week period before their arrival, Tan said.
Health officials checking on Yeargan found him missing from his room on April 5. Yeargan told the court he took the metro downtown to buy a thermometer and a few boxes of masks before he was to fly home on April 6.
Tan said Yeargan needed the items because they were in short supply back home and his wife has been ill. Yeargan’s wife had breathing difficulties but tested negative for the coronavirus in March, he said.
Tan said Yeargan lost his daughter in a tragic incident four years ago and the possibility of another death frightened him. Yeargan told the court his two co-pilots had flown out on April 6 as scheduled but he has been held back in his room. He also said he has to give up an assignment to fly a humanitarian aid mission to COVID-19-hit countries for the U.S. Air Force due to his blunder in Singapore.
“In his address in court, Yeargan said he was sorry, he made a poor judgment and that he shouldn’t have gone out,” Tan said. The American also said he has “the highest regard for the Singapore people and its laws,” Tan added.
The court said in its ruling Yeargan should have asked someone to obtain the items for him.
Tan said Yeargan was relieved as prosecutors had sought a sentence of up to eight weeks. He said he will apply for a remission for good behavior, which could see the American ending his sentence in three weeks.
The Anchorage Daily News reported Yeargan is from the Eagle River community and serves with the Alaska Air National Guard. It said he last spoke to his parents on Mother’s Day. “He’s taking care of himself,” Jim Yeargan was quoted as saying.
FedEx spokeswoman Davina Cole told the newspaper the company adhered to all regulations from government authorities related to containing the virus.
Yeargan was the first foreigner sentenced for violating quarantine orders, but several Singaporeans have been jailed for between five and six weeks for leaving their homes.
Singapore imposed a partial lockdown on April 7 and loosened restrictions Tuesday, with food manufacturers, barbers and laundry shops opening doors three weeks before the lockdown ends June 1.