Is coughing a crime? Court in Denmark hears appeal against COVID-linked conviction

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Denmark’s top court will on Thursday begin an appeal hearing in which it will be asked to decide if coughing at someone while shouting “corona” constitutes threatening behavior.

The 20-year-old defendant in the case was arrested in March, when the country was under a full coronavirus lockdown, after subjecting police to what prosecutors called the “ruthless and thoughtless” actions during a routine traffic stop. He subsequently tested negative for COVID-19.

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First acquitted in a local court, he was later convicted of the offense at Denmark’s Western High Court and, at his Supreme Court appeal against that conviction, prosecutors are seeking jail term of three to five months.

Other similar incidents of coughing directed at police were reported in Denmark last year, in part a reflection of simmering public discontent in some quarters against the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

The government, which says it follows a “precautionary principle” in managing the virus, enjoyed almost unequivocal public support for swift action against COVID-19 early last year.

But opposition parties have begun to question what some consider an overly cautious approach as infection rates fall, and 30% of Danes now think the government’s measures are too far-reaching, according to a recent Aarhus University study.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen this week said lifting the lockdown required “complete epidemic control.”

In recent months, thousands have taken to the streets in protests, some violent, calling for authorities to ease lockdown curbs which they say limit their freedom and are crippling businesses.

Virologists, health authorities and the government have defended the current curbs - which have locked down most of the county apart from essential shops - as vital to contain more infectious coronavirus variants, notably ones first identified in Britain and South Africa, that have reached Denmark.

Just 470 COVID-19 cases were registered in the last 24 hours, down from thousands of daily infections late last year, but the share of people infected with the British variant is on the rise.

Denmark has in total registered just over 200,000 coronavirus infections, with 2,269 related deaths.

The Supreme Court is expected to give its verdict in the coughing case on Feb. 18.

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