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Coughing or Spitting at a Public Official During COVID-19

Under s 10 of the Public Health Act 2010 (NSW), it is an offence to intentionally spit at or cough on a public official in a way that would reasonably be likely to cause fear about the spread of COVID-19. 

If the offence is dealt with by way of a penalty notice, it attracts a fine of $5,000. If it is dealt with by a court attendance notice, it is punishable by a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 6 months and/or a fine of up to $11,000. 

The offence of coughing on or spitting at a public official exists in addition to the offence of common assault, which occurs when a person intentionally or recklessly applies force to another person or causes that person to fear the application of force without consent and without lawful excuse. Common assault is the charge generally brought when one person spits at or on another person without consent. 

You can find a short description of each of these penalties at the bottom of this page.

What the Police must prove

To be found guilty of the offence, the prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you:

  • intentionally 
  • spat at or coughed on 
  • a public official 
  • in a way that would reasonably be likely to cause fear about the spread of COVID-19.

A “public official” is defined as:

  • (a) a health worker, or
  • (b) a police officer within the meaning of the Police Act 1990, or
  • (c) another person exercising public functions under a law of New South Wales, or
  • (d) an Immigration and Border Protection worker within the meaning of the

Australian Border Force Act 2015 of the Commonwealth, or

(e) a person employed or otherwise engaged by the Commonwealth Department of Health.

Possible Defences to Coughing on or Spitting at a Public Official


The maximum penalty is $5,000 or life imprisonment.

If you require legal advice about coughing on, or spitting at a public official during the COVID-19 Pandemic or any other legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Aurhett Barrie - Solicitor – Sydney

This article was written by Aurhett Barrie - Solicitor – Sydney

As a former Judge’s Associate Aurhett has rare insight into how cases are heard and decided. This knowledge allows him to persuasively advocate for his clients’ interests, both inside and outside of a courtroom. He has spent his career practising exclusively in criminal and traffic law and has advised hundreds of clients on an extensive range of matters. He takes...

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