Coronavirus: Taranaki man who spat on police sent to prison

A Taranaki man who spat at police during the coronavirus lockdown has been handed a prison sentence.

The man, who appeared in New Plymouth District Court on Thursday, has been sentenced to three months in jail for the aggravated assault.

On Thursday, police were called after the man had been seen at several private properties. When they approached him, he became aggressive and spat at them.

Police say they will not tolerate spitting, particularly during the current COVID-19 crisis.

"Abhorrent behaviour such as spitting puts our police staff at risk, and understandably causes stress and angst," a police statement read.

"In the current environment we have identified spitting as an escalating risk to both police officers and the community, and it will not be tolerated."

Since the introduction of the alert level 4 restrictions, eight police staff have had to self-isolate after being spat at by people who said they had COVID-19.

Police say while its staff acknowledges the risks of frontline work, there will be heavy consequences for those who deliberately cough or spit on them, or other members of the community.

"If someone does spit or cough on another person and infect them, they risk being charged with infecting with disease under the Crimes Act and face a penalty of 14 years in prison should they be found guilty."

On Wednesday, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster hit out at those spitting on police officers and health staff, labelling their behaviour "completely unacceptable".

"The behaviour of a small minority in targeting police staff or members of the public by coughing or spitting is extremely disappointing and concerning," he said at a press conference on Wednesday.

"We have identified spitting as an escalating risk to both police officers and the community. There have been multiple reports of hospital staff and supermarket workers being spat on or being threatened in the same manner."