People who deliberately try to spread the coronavirus to Australia's healthcare workers could spend life in prison, the federal government has warned.
Speaking at a Wednesday press conference, Health Minister Greg Hunt slammed recent reports of abuse against healthcare workers and said anyone who looked to spread coronavirus to them could face steep penalties, including lengthy jail sentences.
Reading legal advice from the Attorney-General’s department, Mr Hunt said the deliberate transmission of COVID-19 was 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 that were a deliberate transmission," he said.
"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."
Mr Hunt said two people have already been charged in the ACT for "precisely this type of behaviour”.
“We have seen some very troubling cases of people who have either assaulted or threatened healthcare workers, whether it’s verbally, or by coughing on them, by threatening to transmit the virus,” he said.
Reports of doctors and nurses being spat on in the streets, assaulted on public transport and yelled at in grocery stores have surfaced across Australia in recent weeks.
Some hospitals have now warned staff not to wear their uniforms in public to avoid attracting unwanted attention to and from work.
Mr Hunt said these incidents were "completely unacceptable".
"We will be cracking down on them across the jurisdictions,” he said.
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.
If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000. SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments.
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