GARDAÍ have said that they will take a no-nonsense approach to the ‘disgusting’ and ‘disgraceful’ incidents of youths deliberately coughing into people’s faces during the Covid-19 pandemic.
There have been reports in pockets of Cork City of youths coughing at elderly and disabled people while being recorded for social media by their friends.
Assistant Garda Commissioner in Cork, Michael Finn, urged people to report the so-called ‘Corona Challenge’ to gardaí.
He said: “It is very upsetting for people. Especially at a time when there is such uncertainty. I would be asking people to report it if they see any such incidents.”
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) described the actions as “disgraceful” and said they “will not be tolerated”.
AGSI deputy general secretary Antoinette Cunningham said: “It is disgraceful that such actions are taken by members of the public. We do not condone such behaviour and it should not and will not be tolerated.
“At a time when the country is going through an intensely difficult period, we need to work together. We appeal to the public to report any such incidents and also to follow public health guidelines at all times.”
The issue was highlighted by Health Minister Simon Harris, who revealed that he had been approached by two people on Tuesday who deliberately coughed at his face.
He described the incident as “pathetic and disgusting”, saying the culprits both walked away laughing.
“A man and a woman on the street thought it was hilariously funny to come up and cough at me out loud and then run off laughing,” he said.
“When we think, particularly of older people, who are being targeted in relation to this, and there seems to be some sort of social media game — but it’s not a game, it’s disgusting, where you target people in your community, generally older people.
“You go up and cough in their face, video it, have a laugh and run off — just think if it was your granny, granddad, mother, father, your own friend with an underlying health condition like cystic fibrosis.
“The Irish people have been absolutely amazing in relation to this, but anything that takes off in relation to that on social media will have to be dealt with by the full rigours of all of the powers of the State.
“There’s nothing amusing about it, it’s quite pathetic.”
Two people were arrested yesterday by gardaí after the officers were coughed at when breaking up large gatherings of young people.
One incident was in Dungarvan, Co Waterford, and the other was in Dublin.
They were later released without charge.
However, gardaí have warned that such incidents could be offences under the Public Order Act or the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Persons Act.
In recent days, Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless said such action was an offence under Section 6 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Persons Act, which specifically mentions contaminated fluid.
The section covers an act which leads a person to believe they have been infected with a disease as a result.