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Coughing On Someone Could Land You In Prison For Life

Life in jail could face anyone who deliberately coughs on another person, health minister Greg Hunt has warned, in response to a "completely unacceptable" trend of attacks on health workers in the coronavirus crisis.

Health officials nationwide have been calling out disgraceful attacks on doctors and nurses working at the heart of Australia's COVID-19 response, with incidents seeing emergency workers verbally and physically assaulted.

Other frontline workers like police have also been deliberately coughed on by people claiming to be infected with coronavirus, while other videos have emerged of people coughing on one another during arguments or pranks.

On Wednesday, 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.

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"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.

"Australians value, support, believe in and are thankful for the extraordinary work and courage of their healthcare workers, our nurses, our doctors, our aged care workers, the pathologists, who are truly front-line... Australians  have been overwhelmingly good."

Health Minister Greg Hunt has called out the "unacceptable" behaviour. Image: AAP

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.

"In addition, those same state and territory criminal laws also make it an offence to cause someone else to fear that they are having transmitted to them the virus, for example by coughing on them."

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Hunt said two people in the Australian Capital Territory had already been charged with such offences.

"We are stepping up our protection of healthcare workers. These are our heroes," he said.

Hunt also announced the federal government would distribute an extra 11 million face masks to hospitals, general practitioners and aged care homes.

11 million masks are being given to health workers. Image: Getty

Also present at the press conference were Principal Medical Advisor and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd, and President of the Australian Medical Association Dr Tony Bartone.

The two health officials urged Australians to take advantage of newly-expanded telehealth remote consultations available online, and to keep in contact with their doctor for other health issues not related to coronavirus.

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The doctors warned that other chronic health conditions still needed to be taken care of, and urged people not to ignore pressing medical concerns.

"Healthcare doesn't take a holiday. Cancer doesn't take a holiday. Neither does heart disease, neither does stroke," Bartone said.

"We need to ensure that regular care and I would implore all patients and the community to keep that healthcare up and talk to their doctor over the coming months."