Two people in the US have been charged with terrorism offences after claiming they were intentionally trying to spread COVID-19.
Coronavirus is now considered a “biological agent” in the US – so those who threaten to spread it can be charged with terrorism.
James Jamal Curry, 31, coughed on an officer’s arm while he was being arrested on a domestic violence charge in Florida on 27 March.
According to court documents, he told the officer: “Well I got the corona.”
He posted a bond and was released from prison the next day, but officers were called to his home again for allegedly violating a court order to stay away from the victim.
Officers placed him under arrest a second time and there was a struggle as he resisted.
He banged his head repeatedly against a patrol car’s windows before spitting in a female sergeant’s mouth twice, court documents said.
The sergeant wiped his saliva from her face, which had blood in it, as Curry allegedly threatened to kill her.
As officers put a hood over his head to prevent him from spitting at them again, Curry shouted: “I have corona [expletive], and I’m spreading it around,” according to court papers.
Curry later tested negative for COVID-19 after police obtained a warrant to test him.
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He was charged with perpetrating a biological weapons hoax and faces a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison if convicted.
Meanwhile, a second case in Texas involved a 39-year-old who was charged with a similar offence.
Christopher Charles Perez posted on Facebook that he had paid someone to spread the coronavirus at supermarkets in San Antonio in a bid to stop people visiting them.
The threat was found to be false after an FBI investigation, and no one had tried to spread coronavirus at the stores.
The charges in Texas and Florida come two weeks after federal prosecutors across the US were instructed to charge people who threaten to spread COVID-19 under terrorism laws.
The Justice Department’s classification of COVID-19 means officials believe it can be used purposefully as a weapon in bioterrorism or biological warfare.
“Threats or attempt to use COVID-19 as a weapon against Americans will not be tolerated,” deputy attorney general Jeffrey Rosen wrote in the memo to US lawyers and the heads of all Justice Department agencies, including the FBI.
Both Perez and Curry remained in federal custody on Wednesday.
More than 400,000 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the US – the most cases worldwide – and nearly 15,000 have died.
The outbreak has prompted stay at home orders from government officials.
President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that, while he knows workers are “going stir crazy” at home, he cannot predict when the threat from the virus will wane.
He added: “The numbers are changing and they’re changing rapidly and soon we’ll be over that curve. We’ll be over the top and we’ll be headed in the right direction. I feel strongly about that.”