Police Scotland warn against 'coughing pranks'

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Police Scotland have warned that coughing, or threatening to cough on others will not be considered a "harmless prank."

It comes as several people have been arrested and charged for coughing in the faces of others, while claiming to be infected with COVID-19.

Police have warned that they will take "robust action" against anyone who suggests they are infected with Coronavirus before coughing, or threatening to cough on others.

They are particularly concerned for elderly people and people in vulnerable categories, who police say will find these pranks extremely upsetting.

Chief Superintendent David Duncan said, "These are difficult times, and we all need to look out for others, and do what we can to keep our communities as safe as possible.

"We've become aware of a number of incidents where people have suggested they are infected with coronavirus (COVID-19) and deliberately coughed, or threatened to cough, on elderly or vulnerable people.

"This is not a harmless prank - this is extremely upsetting to victims and cause fear and increased anxiety at an already stressful time."

He added "We will not tolerate this kind of behaviour and we will take robust action against anyone threatening other people this way."

A 14 year old boy has been charged by police in Greater Manchester for allegedly coughing and spitting at a woman, while claiming to be infected with COVID-19.  In another unrelated case, a 38 year old man was arrested for spitting in the face of police officers, and has been remanded in custody.

The 14 year old was subsequently charged with one count of section 39 assault and will appear on the youth bench of Tameside magistrates court on the 7th of April.

Officers were reportedly called to an incident at 8.30pm on the 17th of March, where a boy had been shouting "Coronavirus" at a 66 year old woman in Ashton-under-Lyne town centre.

In another incident, Samuel Konneh, 38, was remanded in custody at Manchester and Salford magistrates court on Saturday.  The suspect was accused of four counts of attempted grievous bodily harm for spitting on police officers.  The police had been responding to reports of a woman being assaulted when the incident took place.

In another incident, 33 year old Mateusz Rejewski has been charged with assault for allegedly coughing in the face of police, while claiming to be infected with Coronavirus.  He has since been charged with common assault on an emergency service worker, who is now self isolating as a result.

In another incident in Cheshire, several youths have been accused of coughing in the face of NHS staff while claiming to be infected, and police say they will now be prosecuted.

Sgt Hillyard of Cheshire police wrote on social media, "The youths will be prosecuted as will their parental guardians. This is an absolutely abhorrent incident involving abuse of our NHS heroes.

"I will once again urge all parents and persons with parental responsibility to make sure that their children stay inside. You too can and will be prosecuted if you fail to keep your children inside."

A healthcare worker in Aberdeenshire was also allegedly coughed on while travelling home from work on Friday.  She says she was stopped in her car by a teenager who waved her over, and alleges that the teenager then coughed in her face.  She claims that he told her she would now get Coronavirus, and ran off laughing.  Police are treating the incident as assault.

Police Scotland are appealing for information relating to the incident in Aberdeenshire which took place on the road between Inchmarlo golf course to Brathens Wood at around 1.40pm on Friday.

Sgt Garry Garrow from Banchory police said, "This kind of behaviour is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated. It left the woman distressed and fearful."

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