A Toronto pharmacist who was spat on and punched in the face during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in Australia has thanked the community for rallying around her and her staff.
Kiely Hindmarch, the pharmacist in charge at Priceline Pharmacy Toronto, said it was "magnificent" to receive an outpouring of support from customers and the wider community following the physical altercation at The Boulevarde store earlier in April.
"[I'm] humbled and thankful to be a community pharmacist. It was magnificent to see the outpouring of flowers, cards and chocolates from an enormous support base of customers. It made me feel proud to serve my community," she said.
"One family even hand painted inside the card thanking us all. The community had an outpouring of love and support for our staff, over 50 cards, small notes attached to prescriptions, the whole dispensary covered in flowers and I think about three months' worth of chocolates. Even jams, pickles and tomato relish which were all lovely. It really filled me with so much joy and gave me a boost to keep going."
Ms Hindmarch, who has been working in the industry for 20 years, eight of those in Toronto, said she had seen a surge in violence in the pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic due to panic buying and restrictions on medicine.
That also included verbal abuse on a daily basis.
"It was very upsetting that anyone could act in this way," she said. "As pharmacists and front line workers are putting ourselves at risk every day and admittedly it was hard to face some days.
"We are an essential health service and we will continue to practice with our customers health and wellbeing at the forefront of our minds."
After news about the physical altercation involving Ms Hindmarch spread through the community, the pharmacist said there was a noticeable improvement in the level of abuse she and her staff have had to deal with.
"My staff are grateful. We are doing the best we can," she said.
Speaking about her experience as a pharmacist, Ms Hindmarch said the verbal and physical abuse seen during COVID-19 was heightened but not the first time she had faced it.
"I've had a few instances in my history as a pharmacist. Most pharmacists unfortunately have all got a story to tell," she said.
"It has been a very challenging time, but we understand that everyone's anxiety is high. There have been government restrictions on certain medications and that has been challenging at times to manage, especially for those that may have arrived back here to isolate with their families.
"We are all going through an unprecedented time, and we really do appreciate those that come in and are adapting to our new normal.
"My message to my community is thank you so much for the magnificent people you are, you make the day so much brighter. It is more than just a job, you are my community and I am honoured to serve you in these difficult times."
Spitting and coughing on public officials, such as healthcare workers and police, in NSW will see offenders slapped with a $5000 on-the-spot fine.
People found intentionally spitting or coughing on police officers during the pandemic could also be jailed for up to six months.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said a disturbing trend of abuse and assault towards people in uniform amid the coronavirus pandemic forced the NSW Government to introduce penalties for aggressive behaviour.
The penalties came into effect at the start of April under changes to the Public Health Regulation 2012.