Should ‘Coronavirus Challengers’ in the UK Face Terrorism Charges?

So-called ‘coronavirus challengers’, people who deliberately reach for 15 minutes of social media fame by licking or coughing over public facilities and food, have emerged in their swarms to prove that natural selection hasn’t quite finished with the human race yet. 

While most of us get to grips with this newly reformed topsy-turvy world in which Piers Morgan suddenly has the rallying support of Britons behind him, there still sadly exists a plague of ignoramuses among us. These select few have been selfishly hoarding goods, disobeying self-isolation rules and have even been caught deliberately attempting to spread the infection.

There still sadly exists a plague of ignoramuses among us

Last weekend, flocks of city-dwellers packed up and flocked to less populated regions. Wales, where many residents are retired, Cornwall and even the Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District reported unprecedented levels of families swarming in, despite strict instructions for Britons to stay indoors. The response was a nationwide lockdown: we’re all grounded now thanks to this lot. 

Although their actions have a direct impact on our already strained NHS (see people hurting themselves while mountain-climbing and Manchester grime artist Bugzy Malone crashing his quad bike in Bury), others have surpassed the acceptable level of selfishness. TikTok, Instagram and Youtube nobodies have been filming themselves causing a public nuisance by staging pranks in a bid to ‘go viral’.  

‘Coronavirus challengers’ peak the Richter scale of ignorance and idiocy

Inevitably, each prank and challenge that emerges from the depths of social media dares to be more extreme than the last. But without a doubt, the ‘coronavirus challengers’ peak the Richter scale of ignorance and idiocy.   

In the US, a “corona-viral” video has emerged of a YouTube prankster, identified as Zeesham Ali, licking a subway pole. ‘Influencer’, Ava Louise on TikTok – a channel tuned in to by millions of children around the world – filmed herself licking the toilet seat of an aeroplane. Another unidentified woman was reported to cough all over and subsequently destroy $35,000 worth of produce in a supermarket. 

coronavirus challengers Ava Louise
Ava Louise, licking a toilet seat on an aeroplane. [Image: NYPost.]

And the US does not stand alone in this venture: a Belgium man caused a whole train to be taken out of service to be disinfected after licking his fingers and touching a railing while an aspiring Canadian star, James Potok, forced a plane to make an emergency landing after joking about contracting coronavirus in an announcement to bewildered passengers. 

In this time where patients are ordered by priority, perhaps coronavirus challengers should be pushed to the back of the queue

Such stunts are found in the UK too: one British TikTok user has produced a series of himself licking a multitude of objects on a daily basis, including car door handles, a tree, a fridge door handle, a plug socket, laptop keyboard and an iPad. Ireland’s Health Minister, Simon Harris, has reported being coughed on by two people playing the ‘corona challenge’ while Devon and Cornwall police have noticed a spike in incidents. One recent incident saw British yobs in Hertfordshire cough in the faces of an elderly couple and leave a 70-year-old woman with a black eye.

However, to the celebration of many, one internet personality who goes by the name Larz is said to have contracted Covid-19 after he posted a video of himself licking a public toilet seat. Larz allegedly ‘shot to fame’ in previous pranks that involved licking ice cream and spitting mouthwash back into the bottle before returning the damaged goods to the shelves in supermarkets.

Perhaps the UK should deploy more stringent measures.

‘Corona-Karma’ it may be to the likes of Larz, however, should he be taking up a vital hospital bed when others who haven’t deliberately sought to spread the disease need one too? In this time where patients are ordered by priority, perhaps coronavirus challengers should be pushed to the back of the queue.

coronavirus challengers are found on TikTok and Youtube
Another TikTok user participating in the corona-challenge. [Image: fvidz/The Metro.]

However, where pranksters fail to get a taste of their own medicine, the iron fist of the law seems most appropriate.

One North Carolina man, Justin Rhodes, was arrested and put on a $10,000 bond after streaming a Facebook video of himself breaking quarantine rules and claiming to be asymptomatic. In Russia, a man called Karomatullo Dzhaborov faces a £6,000 fine and five years in prison for faking a coronavirus-induced seizure on a train.  

Another, Cody Pfister from Missouri has been arrested as a ‘terrorist threat’ after filming himself lick a row of toiletry products in a Walmart. And he isn’t the first to be met with terrorism charges: a New Jersey man, George Falcone, was charged with terroristic threats for deliberately coughing on a supermarket employee.  

This coronavirus challenger is now behind bars
Cody Pfister has been put behind bars for making terroristic threats. [Image: Screengrab/Warren County Police/RiverfrontTimes.]

This week, the US has significantly cracked down on this ilk of idiots by charging those who intentionally seek to spread the virus with severe criminal charges under America’s terrorism laws. On Tuesday, the US Justice Department said the measures are proportionate since COVID-19 meets “the statutory definition of a ‘biological agent’” and that those deliberately exposing or infecting others carries the same weight as causing intentional harm or threats with a physical weapon.  

If the CPS were to follow suit, Covid-19 pranksters wouldn’t be laughing if the only ‘clout’ they received was shunned social media silence, a good few years behind bars and a permanently stained passport

Being charged with terrorism-related offences inevitably comes with a long string of restrictions to civil liberties, including a prohibition on travel (especially abroad), barriers to work prospects and finding a place to live. Migrant offenders in the UK may even have their British citizenship revoked and face deportation after serving their time.

Yet the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has decided that deliberately coughing on emergency workers during the coronavirus pandemic will see offenders jailed for up to two years – a measure which many don’t find extreme enough, especially since this latest online trend is a direct threat to public health and safety and since the likes of non-violent groups including Greenpeace, Peta and Extinction Rebellion feature on the UK’s counter-terrorism de-radicalisation guidance.

Video might have killed the radio star, but the silver lining of coronavirus may at least bring the demise of idiotic social media celebrities

Perhaps the UK should deploy more stringent measures. If the CPS were to follow suit, Covid-19 pranksters wouldn’t be laughing if the only ‘clout’ they received was shunned social media silence, a good few years behind bars and a permanently stained passport.

At least TikTok is vowing to remove the content of coronavirus challengers. Video might have killed the radio star, but the silver lining of coronavirus may at least bring the demise of idiotic social media celebrities.

Written by
Olivia Bridge
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