Police are searching for a man who allegedly deliberately coughed on a supermarket worker at Raymond Terrace this week.
It is an alleged incident that has drawn condemnation from the NSW Police Minister and the retail workers' union, given the heightened health safety measures in place amid the worsening coronavirus pandemic.
The 35-year-old female employee was helping customers adhere to social distancing rules at the Glenelg Street Woolworths about 7.30pm on Tuesday when a man approached the counter and a verbal altercation began.
Police have been told the man deliberately coughed on the woman during the stoush.
Investigators are calling for community help tracking down the man.
NSW Police Minister David Elliott called the incident "a disgusting act" and said such behaviour could lead to a common assault charge.
"This kind of dangerous behaviour needs to stop immediately," he said.
"It's potentially putting the lives of workers and their families at risk.
"This isn't a time to practice poor hygiene habits."
Barbara Nebart, the secretary for the Newcastle and Northern NSW branch of the retail, fast food and warehouse workers' union SDA, told the Herald the incident was the worst she had heard of aside from violent assaults.
"It's just disgusting and I think it shows the level some people are getting to," she said.
"This is what our retail and fast food workers are facing day in and day out.
"This is just the lowest of the low."
Port Stephens-Hunter Police District officers have released an image of a man they believe can help with their inquiries.
He is described as being of Caucasian appearance, between 170-180cm tall, with a shaved head, and goatee-style facial hair.
He was wearing cream shorts and black thongs on Tuesday night.
Anyone with information is being asked to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
Police announced on Wednesday that officers would have the power to issue fines of $1000 for individuals and $5000 for businesses that do not follow new government rules on social distancing, public gatherings and protocol when returning to Australia from overseas.
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