SPIT guards should be carried by all frontline police to protect officers from thugs spitting and coughing at them during the coronavirus pandemic, a senior figure has demanded.

Sergeant Simon Kempton, the operational lead for Covid-19 at the Police Federation, told MPs the virus was being "weaponised" by criminals after dozens of such assaults in recent weeks.

He said: "Now more than ever, while Covid-19 is being weaponised, we need those spit guards in the pocket of every single police officer, not just in custody, on the street as well."

It came as the number of UK coronavirus deaths reached 5,373, with 51,608 confirmed cases, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson remained in intensive care after being admitted overnight.

Police forces are allowed to use spit guards but they are not routinely issued to all officers.

Sergeant Kempton told the Home Affairs Select Committee: "It's an emotive issue for me, because I've had other people's blood in my mouth after they've spat at me.

"Now more than ever, while COVID-19 is being weaponised, we need those spit guards in the pockets of every single police officer, not just in custody, but on the street as well.

"The crime of spitting or biting someone is terrible at the best of times. But during this crisis, when COVID-19 is being weaponised against my colleagues, it heightens that fear."

There have been dozens of attacks on police officers by thugs claiming to have coronavirus.

The health of police officers during the pandemic remains a concern, as they are required to leave their homes on duty during the lockdown, putting them at an increased risk of catching coronavirus.

Around 13 per cent of police officers and staff were currently off work, the committee was told.

Chief Superintendent Griffiths said no forces had so far raised their absence rate as a 'risk in terms of service provision' and the numbers seemed to be 'plateauing off'.

It comes after some officers were criticised for "heavy-handed" enforcement of the coronavirus lockdown.

Responding to the concerns, Mr Forsyth said: "It has been a challenge and I think that's why we've seen some of the challenges around the difference of interpretation early on.. I think we're passed that now."

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