People in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly’s are being asked to be respectful to keyworkers as they strive to keep the country running during the coronavirus outbreak in a new campaign - #Unacceptable.

In the weeks since the COVID-19 (coronavirus) lockdown began there have been 87 assaults on police officers and a further 12 on other emergency workers.

These have included verbal abuse, being coughed and sneezed at and physical attacks.

Leader of Torbay Council, Cllr Steve Darling, said: “This campaign is being launched by the Local Resilience Forum, which is made up of those agencies that represent all keyworkers in Devon and Cornwall, to highlight this #unacceptable trend in assaults their staff are facing every day during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We are completely behind this campaign. It is so important that we are respectful to our keyworkers who are making a tremendous effort during these challenging times. Sadly, in Torbay, care staff supporting vulnerable people in their homes have been verbally abused for spreading the virus. Over the last month, we have shown great community spirit in the bay and it is extremely sad that a few people have spoilt this.”

A woman has also recently been jailed for six months for spitting blood into the face of a police officer in Exeter and a burglar spat on a police officer after being arrested and then said he had coronavirus. In Devon, highways staff have been abused whilst carrying out vital repairs to our roads to ensure NHS staff can get to work safely. And in Cornwall, two women were arrested in Penzance and Camborne for assaulting emergency services workers.

Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer, of Devon and Cornwall Police, said: “The public of Devon and Cornwall are so supportive of front-line workers across the health, blue light and social support public sector family. In the fight against COVID-19, their work is augmented by workers and volunteers across many different organisations. Their work and the work of so many others, such as those within supermarkets, are fundamental to our collective endeavour to defeat this virus.

“Assaults on any of these vital, keyworkers are unacceptable. Spitting, coughing or in any way spreading or threatening to spread COVID-19 to anyone is intolerable and especially so to someone who is giving their all during a public health emergency.

“Assault of this kind on any member of the public is abhorrent and may, in some circumstances, lead to arrest and we will seek to bring criminal proceedings against suspected offenders in discussion with the Crown Prosecution Service.”

Devon County Council leader John Hart said: “This kind of behaviour is appalling and totally unacceptable. Most of us are grateful and supportive of our key workers including council staff who are out there every day doing their best to look after the most vulnerable and keep things going. We will not tolerate any kind of abuse and hope the courts come down heavily to stamp it out.”

Ken Wenman, chief executive of South Western Ambulance Service, said: “Our ambulance crews and control room staff are working tirelessly on the front-line to keep people safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Last year we saw 1330 incidents of violence and aggression towards our staff and these incidents have continued during the COVID-19 crisis when they are working in an extremely challenging environment to protect and save lives. We support whatever action is necessary to ensure our staff can continue to protect our staff from harm, and ensure those responsible for such attacks are prosecuted.”

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