Published: 13:55, 26 March 2020
| Updated: 16:16, 26 March 2020
A 73-year-old woman was left scared and shaken after a gang of men taunted her with cries of “corona, corona” as they coughed over her.
Margaret Reeves had left her Beltinge home for a stroll along the Herne Bay seafront at about 3.30pm yesterday, before being confronted by the louts along a footpath near Hazelmere Drive.
She says the group of five men – who she estimates are aged between 19 and 22 – prevented her from passing as they hacked and shouted at her.
“I was walking up towards Reculver Drive and I thought I’d walk along the clifftop,” Ms Reeves recalled.
“I was going to walk down Hazlemere Drive and at the end of the path came five guys.
“The first one was well over six foot, with dark hair and wearing a black coat, and he and the guy next to him lunged towards me and they started coughing all over me and shouted ‘corona, corona’.
“The three guys behind them didn’t actually do that, but they all stood in my way so I couldn’t get around them.”
Ms Reeves ducked out of the way and raced home, where she washed her hair and clothes and disinfected her mobile phone and glasses.
The retiree says the ordeal left her feeling “shaken, weepy and worried” that she had contracted the deadly illness.
“They’ve obviously got no idea about not spreading this virus,” she continued. “I think they thought it was just one big joke.”
Upon learning about what happened, Ms Reeves’s MS-battling partner, Daniel Woollett, 75, says he tried to persuade her not to leave the house again.
“But I have to accept that she wants to go out and get out of the house,” he added. “I was very upset and very concerned for her.
"I think they thought it was just one big joke..."
“I couldn’t believe that a gang of what appear to be grown men could actually behave like that.
“I view what happened as an assault on Margaret – I think it’s horrendous.”
Since posting about the incident on Facebook, Ms Reeves has been told of similar incidents happening in Herne Bay.
She says she has also been inundated with offers from locals to accompany on any of her future strolls.
Police have confirmed that they have launched an investigation into the incident.
Chief Inspector Elena Hall said: "This is a disturbing report considering the current situation.
"Any such abusive behaviour would cause unnecessary alarm as well as showing a blatant disregard for government guidance."
She is urging anyone with any information to call police on 01843 222289, quoting the reference number 25-0820, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.
Crackdown on using virus to threaten key workers
Meanwhile, the Crown Prosecution Service today announced that anyone who coughs at key workers could be charged with common assault.
It comes after reports in recent days of police, shop workers and vulnerable groups being deliberately coughed at by people claiming to have coronavirus.
Max Hill QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, said: “Emergency workers are more essential than ever as society comes together to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
“I am therefore appalled by reports of police officers and other frontline workers being deliberately coughed at by people claiming to have Covid-19.
“Let me be very clear: this is a crime and needs to stop. The CPS stands behind emergency and essential workers and will not hesitate to prosecute anybody who threatens them as they go about their vital duties.”