By Karim El-Bar
LONDON (AA) - A British woman was sentenced to 12 weeks behind bars for coughing in a police officer’s face while claiming she is infected with the new coronavirus, local media reported Friday.
The 35-year-old was approached by police officers as she damaged a car parked outside a train station in Norwich, she then acted abusively to the officers.
She admitted to causing criminal damage and being drunk and disorderly in a public place.
Chief Superintendent Dave Marshall said: "Any abuse and threatening behavior towards the emergency services is unacceptable at any time. However, this sentence reflects the seriousness of threats and acts of coughing to put others in fear of contracting Covid-19.
"This should act as a clear warning that there will be serious consequences for anyone who behaves in such a threatening way towards others during this pandemic."
On Thursday, the Crown Prosecution Service, the agency responsible for conducting criminal prosecution in England and Wales, said threatening to infect people with coronavirus could constitute assault and result in criminal charges, with attacks on emergency workers, in particular, being punishable by up to two years imprisonment.
Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill 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."
Over the past week, local media have reported several arrests for acts against emergency workers such as threatening them purposely by coughing on them.
British police have admitted difficulty in policing social distancing, with some on social and traditional media saying the rules must be enforced more strictly and others saying the police have overstepped their powers when telling people to go home.
The police have previously said they do not wish to take a heavy-handed approach and instead seek to persuade people to follow the rules.
More than 14,750 people have been infected with COVID-19 in the U.K. and the death toll stood at 761 on Friday
In the past 24 hours, 181 more people died, marking the largest day-on-day rise so far.
After emerging in Wuhan, China last December, coronavirus has spread to at least 177 countries and territories.
The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.
The number of confirmed cases worldwide has now surpassed 614,000 while the death toll is nearly 28,700 and over 135,600 people have recovered, according to data compiled by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.
Despite the rising number of cases, most who contract the virus suffer only mild symptoms before making a recovery.