Coughing craze pranksters risk day in court as Harris targeted

Minister Simon Harris revealed he had been coughed at

Hugh O'Connell and Ken Foy

Health Minister Simon Harris has warned that people who are deliberately coughing or spitting at others during the Covid-19 crisis could face criminal sanction - as he revealed that it has happened to him.

So far two people have been arrested over separate incidents involving coughing at gardai.

Mr Harris said a man and a woman approached him as he was walking from Government Buildings to the Department of Health on Tuesday and "thought it was hilariously funny to come up and cough loudly and run off laughing".

He said there was "absolutely nothing funny about it, it was quite pathetic", as he issued a strong rebuke to those engaging in such behaviour.


At a press conference in Government Buildings yesterday, he warned that the full rigours of the law will be used against offenders.

People wearing face mask as a precautionary measure against Covid-19, carry a shopping bag as the pass a boarded-up and temporarily closed pub in Dublin

The warning came as a Romanian man who coughed and spat at a nurse after he was asked to put on a mask during a hospital visit last week tested positive for the virus.

The incident took place in James Connolly Memorial Hospital, Blanchardstown last Thursday and the nurse is now receiving treatment.

The man was not arrested in relation to the incident.

Separately, the Herald revealed yesterday that a teenager was arrested for public order offences after he coughed at gardai who responded to a call about a group of 10 men playing soccer in Dungarvan, Co Waterford. He has been released without charge.

Queues of people at the COVID-19 testing centre at the L.E. Samuel Beckett

Meanwhile, in Dun Laoghaire, a teenager was arrested on Tuesday night after coughing at a female garda when officers were called to the harbour area where a number of youths had gathered. He was also released without charge.

Gardai are becoming increasingly concerned about the so-called 'TikTok coronavirus challenge', in which people deliberately cough or spit at others, telling them they are infected before posting a video on the TikTok social media app.

"Can we please as people just look at what's happening in Italy, in the European Union, where we're seeing several hundred people a day dying of a virus that can be deadly to certain people in our population?" Mr Harris said.

"When you do I think, particularly for older people who are being targeted in relation to this, and it seems to be some sort of social media kind of game - but it's not a game, it's disgusting - going on that would target certain people in your community, generally older people and go up and cough in their face, video it, have a laugh and run off.

"Just think of it with your own granny, grandad, mother, father, and your own friends with an underlying health condition like cystic fibrosis.

"The Irish people have been absolutely amazing in relation to this national challenge that we're all going through, but anything that takes off in relation to that on social media will have to be dealt with the full rigours of all of the powers that the State has."


Mr Harris was speaking at the launch of a public information booklet on Covid-19 which will be sent by An Post to every household in the country in the coming days.

At the same event, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it now appeared there will be fewer than the 15,000 confirmed cases that were predicted by the end of March.

"The number of confirmed cases I don't think will be 15,000 and I hope that is some evidence of some of the measures having some effect," he said.

However, he added that it remained the case that "not far off 200 cases" are being confirmed every day.

"I don't think we can start to even contemplate the idea that we're containing this virus until we start to see the number of new cases every day fall, and fall consistently, and we're nowhere near that," Mr Varadkar added.

"It's only a few countries that have kind of gone to that space, like China, South Korea, a few others, Japan maybe."

The Taoiseach also rejected the characterisation of the announcement that private hospitals will be used to deal with the pandemic as the Government creating a single-tier health service.

"I don't think we should exaggerate what has been done. We've created a single-tier health service for the purpose of treating Covid-19," he said.

"That isn't the case across the board for treating all illnesses."

He said the same had been done for abortion services last year, adding: "This isn't something that has happened across the board, it's happened for a period of time for a particular illness."

Meanwhile, he said parents will not be expected to pay creche fees during the emergency for childcare they are not receiving, but stressed that this is a temporary measure.

"I think most parents would acknowledge that if they are receiving a service such as childcare that they should make a contribution," he said.