People Caught Coughing Or Spitting On Frontline Workers To Cop $5,000 On-The-Spot Fines
NSW is introducing tough new fines targeting people who intentionally cough or spit on emergency and healthcare workers during the COVID-19 crisis, after authorities slammed recent incidents as "abhorrent".
Under the new public health order, which is effective immediately, people who cough or spit on health workers, police, pharmacists, paramedics or other public officials will now be subject to a $5,000 on-the-spot fine.
It comes as health officials continue to call out repeated reports of attacks on doctors, nurses and other frontline workers across the country.
In recent weeks a number of reported incidents have emerged, as well as videos of people coughing on others either deliberately or as "pranks".
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the tough new measures were in response to a "series of incidents" involving "abhorrent acts" of some individuals in the community and warned of possible jail time.
“Every day our doctors and nurses, police and paramedics put their health and safety on the line to protect us, and a threat to them is a threat to us,” he said.
"How incredibly ridiculous is it that anybody could think it's acceptable to spit or cough on frontline health workers, health officials, police -- indeed any of our border force officials," he told a press conference on Thursday afternoon.
Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott said authorities could also take further action, including prosecution and a possible six-month jail sentence for those caught intentionally spitting or coughing on police officers.
“Like most people, I find the recent actions of a handful of individuals utterly foul and obnoxious but worryingly -- the behaviour is potentially life threatening,” Elliot said.
“COVID-19 kills – the global death toll is already more than 85,000 people and climbing – so if you spit or cough on any of our police officers, who are putting their own safety on the line to protect you, you will face the consequences and be slapped with a fine.”
The NSW Police Association welcome the new fines, saying front line workers were being exposed to "threatening and dangerous"behaviour.
"We’ve had a gutful of it, our fellow emergency service and healthcare workers have had a gutful too, and so has the wider public," President Tony King said.
"“In recent weeks we have seen police repeatedly targeted statewide by people coughing and spitting on them. As stated today, and it can’t be said loudly or often enough, COVID-19 is no joke."
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said it was "incomprehensible" that the fine had to be introduced.
“Foul acts like coughing and spitting, which can potentially spread COVID-19, pose a risk to public safety, so police won’t hesitate to take action,” he said.
“The rules are clear and they apply to everyone, so if you decide to ignore a direction, you will be caught and you will receive a hefty fine and possibly a prison sentence.”
The new fines in NSW come just a day after federal health minister Greg Hunt warned people who deliberately cough on another person could face life in jail.
Hunt said such actions were "completely unacceptable" and reminded people of harsh penalties for deliberately infecting someone with the virus, or causing someone to think they have been put at risk of contracting it.
"There are very clear case studies of people being assaulted, of people being threatened, of charges being laid... these cases are completely unacceptable and we will be cracking down on them across the jurisdictions," he told a Canberra press conference.
Hunt also shared a statement from attorney-general Christian Porter, which warned of the heavy penalties for those who deliberately cough on others.
"The deliberate transmission of COVID-19 is an offence under the general criminal laws that apply in every state and territory. The most serious of these offences may carry maximum penalties up to imprisonment for life, if somebody was to take a step which led to the death of a healthcare worker, if it were a deliberate transmission," Hunt read.