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Australia Slaps Heavy Fines on People Spitting on Workers During COVID-19 Crisis

FILE - A Queensland police officer moves a stop sign at a vehicle checkpoint on the Pacific Highway on the Queensland - New South Wales border, in Brisbane on April 15, 2020.

A $3,000 on-the-spot fine for spitting or coughing on health workers during the COVID-19 crisis in the Australian state of New South Wales has been expanded to include other essential staff. There are more than 6,600 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia. 70 people have died with the virus.

Videos posted online have shown just how vile some of the abuse of emergency workers has been in Australia during the COVID-19 crisis. A woman arrested for traffic offenses is seen spitting in the face of a police officer before she is thrown to the ground.

In another, a store worker is physically assaulted and spat on by a woman, who was reportedly angry at restrictions at supermarkets.

Australia’s retail union has said its members had “borne the brunt of a huge upsurge in customer abuse” during the coronavirus pandemic. A spokesman said such anti-social behavior was “disturbingly common.”

It is now subject to on-the-spot penalties. Beginning Monday, police in the state of New South Wales will be able to fine people who abuse all types of workers, not just those in emergency services or healthcare.

“If you cough, or you spit on any worker in New South Wales, the police are open to giving you a (AUD)$5,000 fine, and I for one would like to see that happen to anybody who thinks that is acceptable,” said Brad Hazzard, the New South Wales health minister.

Police officers have reported that people receiving fines for flouting physical-distancing guidelines in Australia were coughing on them and then claiming they had COVID-19.

Nurses and midwives have also said they had been assaulted on trains and buses, refused service at grocery stores and spat on by members of the public who have accused them of spreading the virus.

The New South Wales state government said imposing heavy fines on perpetrators was necessary because of a "sufficient minority" of Australians causing harm.

Unions have described the assaults as “despicable and vile behavior.”