COVID-19 or novel coronavirus first infected people as early as December 2019, with the virus being declared a pandemic in early March 2020 by the World Health Organisation (‘WHO’). The COVID-19 pandemic has been a significant threat to people worldwide with over 2.5 million cases being recorded at the time of writing this article.
New Fines for Coughing or Spitting
In April 2020, the NSW Government introduced new on-the-spot fines of $5,000 initially for spitting or coughing on public officials including health care workers and police but since expanding this to protect the general public. This change comes into effect through the Public Health Regulation 2012 (NSW) see Schedule 4. NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard made it clear in a recent report by ABC that ‘government intervention was necessary because of a “sufficient minority” of people causing harm.’ He then goes on to say:
‘How incredibly ridiculous is it that anybody could think it’s acceptable to spit or caught on frontline health workers, health officials, police or indeed any of our Border Force officials … These frontline workers are caring for us and the simple fact is we need to care for them.’
But it doesn’t end there. If a person is charged with this offence and the matter is heard in court, the accused person could face up to 6 months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $11,000 and up to a further $5,500 per day if the person continues the conduct.
Why the change?
These changes appear to have come about in the wake of numerous complaints by police and other emergency services workers that people are coughing or spitting on them in what looks like an attempt lash out especially in cases where a person is likely to be arrested or fined by police.
In late-March 2020, a 25-year-old woman was pulled over by police for an alleged speeding offence, travelling at an alleged 120km/h in a residential area in Greenacre, NSW. During the interaction with police, the woman was forcibly removed from her vehicle by police. After a brief struggle, the woman is allegedly seen on camera coughing and spitting on the officer after stating that she was travelling to be tested for COVID-19. In response, the NSW Police Commissioner stated “Police will not tolerate being spat at in any climate, let alone the one we’re facing right now. It’s as simple as that.” The woman was refused bail by police but was ultimately granted bail by the Local Court soon after.
Other Recent Cases
There are other such instances of this happening around the country with an 18 year old young man being arrested for allegedly breaching stay-at-home directions over four times. When approached by police, the young man allegedly stated that he would ‘cough on you as I have the virus anyway’.
In another incident a man, 57, in the ACT was charged with similar offences for allegedly ‘standing up and … spitting multiple times on the restaurant table and ground, laughing and stating he has the coronavirus’ and another man, 28, allegedly became angry at hotel staff in the ACT over nightly rated before he began coughing at them as reported by the ABC.
Spitting and common assault
Spitting at someone has been considered a criminal act in NSW for quite some time, with spitting being considered a serious form of common assault due to the health risks and overall disgusting nature of the act. A person who spits on another person (whether it hits them or not) can be charged and sentenced to up to 2 years imprisonment or could have been fined up to $2,200.00 before the NSW health directives came into effect.
If you’ve been fined for spitting or coughing or been served with a court attendance notice call us on 0412 159 813 for an obligation free consultation with one of our experienced local lawyers.