Australia

NSW introduces fines of $5,000 for people spitting and coughing on frontline coronavirus workers

NSW Minister for Heath Brad Hazzard. Source: AAP

Fines of $5,000 will be given to people in NSW who deliberately cough or spit on frontline workers during the coronavirus crisis.

People in New South Wales now risk a $5,000 fine if they intentionally try to spit or cough on health workers, police, pharmacists, paramedics or other public officials during the coronavirus pandemic, state authorities have announced.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said he has received a number of reports of people threatening to spread the coronavirus to frontline workers, which forced the state government to introduce penalties for such behaviour.

It follows a speech from federal Health Minister Greg Hunt on Wednesday, in which he warned people who intentionally coughed, sneezed or spat on health workers could face a life-long prison sentence.

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“Unfortunately we have had a serious of incidents where ... frontline workers keeping us safe have actually had people spitting and coughing on them,” Mr Hazzard said on Thursday.

“We are telling you to stop it, or you will cop it with a $5,000 fine.”

He said the fine would send a clear message that Australians needed to band together in the fight against COVID-19, which has so far infected more than 1.4 million people across the globe.

Of these, more than 88,000 have died while close to 330,000 have recovered.

Nurses & Midwives Association general secretary Brett Holmes said he had also received dozens of reports of "horrible behaviour" towards nurses.

“Frontline workers are really putting their lives on the line to look at the community and they do not need to have this sort of behaviour directed toward them,” he said.

“It's completely unacceptable. And we simply say to people stop it.”

The deliberate transmission of COVID-19 is an offence under the general criminal laws that apply in every state and territory, Mr Hunt said on Wednesday.

If the act of deliberate transmission led to the death of a healthcare worker, the maximum penalty is imprisonment for life.

Some hospitals have now warned staff not to wear their uniforms in public to avoid attracting unwanted attention as they go to and from work.

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. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

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