By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
Tensions are rippling throughout the world as news of the coronavirus bubbles into our televisions and social media screens advising of the latest limitations and lockdowns.
Undeniably, anxiety around the deadly virus and its threats to daily life have sharpened, leaving people fearful and reacting in all kinds of eccentric ways.
Generally speaking, when a person is driven by fear, it can lead to decision-making that is confused and behaviour that is out of line with recommendations.
It is not surprising, for example, that the distress and panic caused by the coronavirus has unearthed several cases of violence over the last few months.
Troublingly, last week, another such case uncovered, this time involving a student from Hong Kong studying in Hobart, Tasmania, who was jeered at and then punched in the face, all because he was wearing a medical face mask on a trip to the shops.
How the Hong Kong Student Came to be Accused of Having Coronavirus Before Being Assaulted
ABC News reports that last week, the student, who requested to be referred to as “Ted”, frequented New Town Plaza with a friend during the evening.
While in the car park of the plaza, a man suddenly yelled at him, “you’ve got the virus”.
The 38-year-old male then continued to bellow at the student, shouting, “go back to your country”.
Although Ted tried to ignore the man, he followed the student to his car, at which point he punched him in the face.
The assault left Ted with a bruised eye and shattered his glasses.
Thankfully, his injuries suffered were not serious.
Violent Attack Condemned by Tasmania Police and Local Leaders Resulting in 38-Year-Old Man Jailed for Common Assault
The vicious assault was widely condemned by Tasmania Police, the state’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner as well as Chinese community leaders, who said there is no room for physical or verbal abuse.
The response rapidly resulted in the attacker from New Town being jailed after pleading ‘guilty’ a common assault charge.
The man was sentenced to two months behind bars over the incident.
Confusion Between the Use of Face Masks in East and West: Student Makes Plea for Tolerance
Meanwhile, following the incident, student Ted made a heartfelt plea for tolerance.
“I heard of some cases where an overseas student got punched because they were wearing a mask and people thought they had the coronavirus,” he said.
“I never thought it would happen to me.”
Hearing of the attack, the community leader for Chinese-Tasmania, Yongbei Tang, expressed her deep dismay over the occurrence, which she labelled “despicable”.
“The West regards wearing a face mask as a way to protect yourself after you are sick, but the East thinks of it as a way to protect yourself before you get sick and others in case you are sick yourself,” Ms Tang said.
“I really hope for better cross-cultural understanding on this matter.”
The Chinese-Tasmania leader urged the need to fight against the spread of COVID-19 as a united front rather than quarrelling with each other.
Here are the most recent updates on assault law.
Similar Sentiment Shared by Online Users as News of the Assault Posted to Social Media
On social media, as news was shared of the incident, a similar sentiment was conveyed by a wide spectrum of online users.
In a post by ABC Hobart’s Facebook page, one user expressed disapproval of the attack, commenting, “Horrible thing to happen, the poor student. Glad the fellow that hit him was caught and charged”.
“It’s hard being intelligent amongst the ignorant,” wrote another.
Another voiced their disgust over the abuse, saying, “God damn disgusting f-wit [sic]”.
Meanwhile, another reflected on a similar scenario.
“My son and I wear masks during flu season on public transport and holy cow people have been rude about it this year. Pretending to sneeze on us. Yelling at us. Just the constant dirty looks and eyerolls are enough,” the user wrote.
In NSW, common assault is understood as an assault involving either an intentional or reckless act on another person whereby that person is caused to feel fear of immediate and unlawful violence or force.
Common assault can occur without there being physical force involved.
However, in situations where force is applied on the victim, the offence becomes more serious.
In NSW, common assault offences are taken very seriously, with serious penalties in force.
That said, on the spectrum of assault charges under NSW law, common assault finds itself amongst the less serious of assaults.
In NSW, common assault offences carry a maximum penalty of two years in jail and/or a fine of $5,500, which is reflected in section 61 Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
Section 61 makes clear that whosoever assaults any person, although not occasioning actual bodily harm, is guilty of common assault.
It should be noted that if the common assault occurs within the circumstances of a domestic relationship – for example between partners, a husband and wife, siblings etc – then the penalties become more severe. This is referred to as domestic violence assault charges.