Threatening people in emergency and essential services with a ‘coronavirus cough’ by individuals claiming to have the virus has been made a criminal offence following reports of the police, shop workers and vulnerable people being deliberately coughed at in the UK.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said such behaviour is illegal and assaults specifically against emergency workers are punishable by up to 12 months in prison. Coughs directed as a threat at other key workers or members of the public could be charged as common assault.
Some individuals have already been charged and sentenced for such assaults. The police have also been given new powers to ensure and enforce social distancing. Some gatherings and parties by people ignoring official advice have been thwarted by the police.
Max Hill, director of public prosecutions, said: “Emergency workers are more essential than ever as society comes together to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. I am therefore appalled by reports of police officers and other frontline workers being deliberately coughed at by people claiming to have Covid-19”.
“Let me be very clear: this is a crime and needs to stop. The CPS stands behind emergency and essential workers and will not hesitate to prosecute anybody who threatens them as they go about their vital duties.”
East London-based Darren Rafferty, 45, has admitted three counts of assaulting an emergency worker after claiming to have coronavirus and directing coughs at Scotland Yard officers arresting him for another offence.
Blackburn-based David Mott, 40, has been jailed after threatening to spit at the police who had asked him what he was doing out with two others after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced stricter social distancing rules on March 23.