The minister said advice from the Attorney-General’s Department stated the deliberate transmission of COVID-19 “is an offence under the general criminal laws that apply in every state and territory”.
“The most serious of these offences may carry maximum penalties up to imprisonment for life, if somebody was to take a step which led to the death of a healthcare worker, if it were a deliberate transmission,” Mr Hunt said.
State and territory criminal laws also made it an offence to “cause someone else to fear” they had been given the virus, “for example by coughing on them”, he said.
The minister said two people in the ACT had been charged with “precisely this type of behaviour” and “the same will occur in other jurisdictions”.
“We are stepping up our protection of healthcare workers,” Mr Hunt said.
“These are our heroes … We thank you and we honour all of you. You are the ones who are on the front-line saving lives and protecting lives.”
The minister also announced the government would immediately begin allocating 11 million protective masks to health workers across the nation, with seven million for hospitals and 2.3 million for primary health networks – including 1.5 million for general practices, 500,000 for pharmacies and 1.7 million for aged care.
The government had ordered more than 500 million masks through domestic and international supply chains,
Mr Hunt said, and while he had “become increasingly confident about the delivery”, “not all of them will necessarily arrive”.
“It will still be challenging,” he said. “But what we are seeing is stronger supply.”
Healthcare workers would also benefit from expanded testing rules, he said.
The Health Services Union is pushing for hospital workers to have access to free parking to support the many healthcare workers who are avoiding public transport to reduce their chance of contracting or spreading the coronavirus.
Deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly rejected the proposal on Monday, saying while healthcare workers were a “very important component of the community”, “we are all making sacrifices” with “many people out of work”.
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Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.