HEALTH Minister Simon Harris has sharply criticised people who are deliberately coughing or spitting at others during the Covid-19 crisis, revealing that it happened to him this week.
Mr Harris said that a man and a woman approached him as he was walking from Government Buildings to the Department of Health on Baggot Street on Tuesday and “thought it was hilariously funny to come up and cough loudly and run off laughing”.
Mr Harris said there was "absolutely nothing funny about it, it was quite pathetic" as he issued a strong rebuke to those engaging in such practices at a press conference in Government Buildings on Wednesday and warned that the full rigours of the law will be used against those engage in such practices.
Independent.ie reported on Tuesday that a teenager was arrested for public order offences after he coughed at gardaí who responded to a call about a group of men playing football.
Gardaí 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 social media.
Mr Harris said: “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.
“And 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.”
He 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 that there will be fewer than the estimated 15,000 confirmed Covid-19 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 that people are having some effect,” he said.
However, he said that it remained the case that “not far off 200 cases” are being confirmed every day.
Mr Varadkar said: “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. It's only a few countries that have kind of gone to that space like China, South Korea, a few others, Japan maybe.”
Mr Harris said that he was concerned about the number of patients being submitted to ICU. ”This is an extraordinary situation and we don't yet know how this will play out,” he said.
At the same event, An Post CEO David McRedmond said postmen and women are now calling into older and vulnerable people to help them with any food, medicine or message requests.
They will also begin taking parcels and letters from elderly and vulnerable people and distributing them for free.
Mr McRedmond said An Post is working with the National Newspapers of Ireland on setting up a scheme to deliver newspapers to the elderly and vulnerable in the coming weeks.
Earlier, senior Government official Elizabeth Canavan said that the Department of Employment received 103,000 applications for Covid-19 income supports by last Friday and made almost 60,000 payments on Tuesday.
A weekly statistical report will now be published by the Department.