Covid-19: Third of police officers 'threatened with deliberate infection'

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One in three police officers in England and Wales has been threatened by someone they believed had Covid-19, a survey suggests.

A poll of rank-and-file officers by the Police Federation found 32% said someone they thought to be infected had threatened to breathe or cough on them.

Some 21% of officers said a suspected infected person tried to spit at them.

It is the largest survey published of frontline officers' experiences of policing the pandemic.

Meanwhile, police chiefs have reiterated calls for officers to be prioritised for vaccination, along with teachers and firefighters.

The Demand, Capacity and Welfare Survey was carried out between 5 October and 23 November last year, with about one in 10 rank-and-file officers responding.

Just over half of officers, 55%, said they had been the victim of an unarmed physical attack in the past year, while 16% said they had suffered injuries requiring medical attention.

While only 3% of officers had tested positive for Covid-19, 26% believed they had had the virus.

'Weaponising of the virus'

Chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales John Apter said the survey showed the "huge pressure" officers were under policing the pandemic and the negative impact this was having on their welfare.

He added: "The increasing level of violence they face, especially involving the weaponising of the virus, is a sad indictment of the society we live in."

A total of 12,471 officers provided useable responses to the survey, from a total Police Federation membership of more than 120,000 from the rank of constable to chief inspector.

On Tuesday the Metropolitan Police Service, the biggest force in the UK, said five officers had died with Covid-19 in the past two weeks.

'We now need action'

Meanwhile, police leaders are pushing the government for frontline officers to get priority access to Covid-19 vaccines.

Mr Apter said: "They must be given all the protection they need to protect themselves and this includes being prioritised for the Covid vaccine. We have had enough of the warm words - we now need action."

The chair of the National Police Chiefs' Council, Martin Hewitt, said it was important to society that police forces retain their resilience and were able to use the vaccination process to protect their level of service.

Around 8% of officers in England and Wales are currently off work. It is thought more than 20 officers have died from Covid-19.

"The simple fact of the matter is you can't do policing at two metres distance," Mr Hewitt said.

He said it was right that the "uniquely vulnerable" were being vaccinated first - people most likely to be seriously ill or die - but called for frontline officers, teachers and firefighters to be prioritised next.

Last week, Home Secretary Priti Patel said ministers were working to ensure police and other frontline workers were moved up the priority list for vaccination.

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