MPs in Kent have joined together to call for the "immediate imprisonment" of anyone who spits at emergency workers during the coronavirus outbreak.

In a letter signed by 16 of the county's 17 Members of Parliament, including Dartford's Gareth Johnson, the politicians urge judges to take the strongest possible action.

It comes after a thief who spat at a police officer following an incident in Whitstable, Kent, on March 29 was jailed.

One of the signatories, Natalie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover, said: "We cannot tolerate anyone putting the safety of emergency workers at risk.

"They put their lives on the line helping to beat this crisis - and we must in turn give them our full backing.

"Assaulting an emergency worker by coughing or spitting at them is a disgusting act at any time. Carrying out such an act at this time is particularly serious and should be treated as such by the courts.

"That's why anyone found spitting at an emergency worker should go straight to jail."

In the letter, the MPs recognise that theirs is an "unprecedented approach" to the judiciary during "unprecedented times".

They add: "There is a separation of powers that rightly exists in this country, yet it is also right we express our constituents' views.

"We believe that any person convicted in Kent's courts of coughing or spitting at or in any other way threatening an emergency worker by using coronavirus should expect an immediate term of imprisonment."

On Sunday March 29, Oliver Cook, 35, was arrested outside a supermarket in Oxford Street, Whitstable, at around 6.20pm after he was seen trying to steal meat, Kent Police said.

During the incident he spat at a police officer and told him "I have coronavirus".

He was later charged with two counts of assaulting an emergency worker, theft and criminal damage.

Cook, of no fixed address, admitted the charges at Medway Magistrates' Court and was jailed for a total of 120 days.