Police say that ‘coronavirus coughs’ directed at members of the public will be treated as common assault.
The Crown Prosecution Service says it will take action after reports in recent days of police, shop workers and vulnerable groups being deliberately coughed at by people claiming to have the disease.
A CPS statement said: “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.”
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.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted: “Reports of people deliberately coughing on our hardworking emergency workers are appalling. The @cpsuk have clearly said that this is a crime and will not hesitate to prosecute anyone who threatens the vital work of our emergency workers.”
The warnings come after Darren Rafferty, 45, of Dagenham, Essex, 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.
He will be sentenced at Snaresbrook Crown Court on April 1.