Last reviewed 8 April 2020

The Director of Public Prosecutions has warned that anyone using coronavirus as a weapon to threaten emergency or essential workers by coughing at them will face serious criminal charges.

The statement from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has come after reports in recent days of police, shop workers and vulnerable groups being deliberately coughed at by people claiming to have the disease.

In a statement, the CPS said that 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.

Darren Rafferty, 45, of Dagenham, east London, recently admitted three counts of assaulting an emergency worker after claiming to have coronavirus and directing coughs at Metropolitan Police officers arresting him for another offence.

In a similar case, David Mott, 40, of Blackburn, was jailed after threatening to spit at police in Blackburn who had asked him what he was doing out with two others after the Prime Minister’s announcement of stricter social distancing rules on Monday night.

Commenting on the issue, Max Hill QC, 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.”