The Western Australian government has moved quickly to ensure legislative protection for nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic, with tougher penalties for assaults and threats made on ‘essential frontline workers’ during the crisis.
The Criminal Code Amendment (COVID-19 Response) Bill 2020, passed by both houses of parliament on Wednesday, puts enhanced measures in place for those who knowingly use the virus and/or its threat as part of their offending.
People who knowingly assault workers while infected, or alternately, while creating a belief, suspicion or fear of having it, will receive up to 10 years imprisonment.
Meanwhile, those who threaten to injure, endanger or harm frontline workers by exposing them to COVID-19 will face a maximum of seven years’ jail time.
The legislation, which will last for a year because of its direct relationship to the virus, received bipartisan support after being introduced into parliament on Tuesday.
“These tough new measures are necessary to provide protection for police officers and other frontline service providers in the face of potential threats or assaults involving COVID-19,” the state’s Attorney-General, John Quigley, stated.
“This kind of disgraceful behaviour is unacceptable, presents a serious risk to health and safety, and will not be tolerated.”
Australian Nursing Federation (ANF WA) State Secretary Mark Olson said the protection of their members while doing their job on the frontline was always of paramount importance.
“And any measures designed to deter behaviour such as people deliberately spitting in the face of a nurse, especially during a time of a highly infectious and potentially lethally disease, are welcomed,” he said.
At the time of publication, more than 400 cases of COVID-19 had been recorded in WA, with two people losing their lives to the virus.