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PSNI at 'increased risk because they do not have spit and bite guards' amid Covid 19 outbreak

The Police Federation says PSNI officers are 'at increased risk because they do not have spit and bite guards' Credit: UTV

Police officers in Northern Ireland are being placed at increased risk because they do not have spit and bite guards to protect them against coronavirus, the chair of the Police Federation has said.

Mark Lindsay claims the PSNI is the last service in the United Kingdom to use them.

"The failure to immediately introduce the guards in Northern Ireland is inexcusable and places officers at increased risk during this worsening Covid-19 crisis", Mr Lindsay said.

It comes after a man was arrested for coughing on police officers in Londonderry after claiming he had coronavirus symptoms.

Police Federation chair Mark Lindsay says PSNI officers must have spit and bite guards to protect themselves during the Covid 19 outbreak. Credit: Police Federation

Mr Lindsay said those on the front line must have every protection available to deploy.

"As Covid-19 worsens, and enforcement is stepped up, our officers will find themselves in difficult and potentially dangerous situations," Mr Lindsay said.

"They must have these spit and bite guards to protect themselves and, by extension,their work colleagues and families.

A spokeswoman for the Policing Board said Chief Constable Simon Byrne had asked it to consider the introduction of spit and bite guards before the outbreak.

“In considering this request the Board wanted to make sure that the PSNI has access to equipment which supports its work.

“However the health and safety duty of care to our police service must also be balanced with the impact of the use of such equipment, human rights implications and community impact.

“In light of the current Coronavirus situation,the Chief Constable advised the Board an operational decision had been taken to introduce this equipment into Custody Suites and this was supported by the Board.”

Amnesty International has advised against the use of spit guards in the context of coronavirus Credit: Presseye

But a human rights body has cautioned against the introduction of the use of spit and bite guards by the PSNI.

Amnesty's Northern Ireland programme director Patrick Corrigan said: "We would advise against the use of spit guards in the context of coronavirus until specific guidance has been developed on the risks and effectiveness for police officers and members of the public."

Mr Corrigan added: "Any illness which can impair breathing, such as Covid-19, means there are additional health risks to any use of force which could itself further restrict breathing. We know from experience elsewhere that spit hoods can restrict breathing.