Police in Essex have been coughed on, spat at or bitten hundreds of times during the Covid-19 pandemic, figures show.

The Police Federation of England and Wales say the attacks show "we are living in a more violent society which needs to take a long hard look at itself", adding that those caught should be sent to prison.

Essex Police recorded 402 instances of coughing, spitting or biting in attacks on police officers from February to November last year.

That was up from the 303 reported during the same period in 2019.

Attacks may have involved more than one instance of coughing, spitting or biting.

National chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, John Apter, said the attacks on police officers during the pandemic was "a serious issue for us all".

He said: “Those who attack emergency workers have a complete lack of respect for anything or anybody. Without doubt, we are living in a more violent society which needs to take a long hard look at itself."

He added: "We need officers to have the very best protection, and there must be a strong deterrent – that deterrent should be time in prison, no ifs, no buts.

"Time and time again we see officers who have been badly assaulted, and they see their attacker being let off with little more than just a slap on the wrist.

"This is offensive and fails to give that deterrent which is so desperately needed."

Overall attacks against police officers in Essex have increased with 1,217 recorded from February to November last year, up from 971 in the same period in 2019.

The highest number was recorded in July when there were 154.

In September, the government announced plans to double the maximum jail term for criminals who assault emergency workers to two years.

Firefighters, prison officers and NHS staff are also classed as emergency workers.

Policing minister Kit Malthouse said: "Our brave police officers go to work every day to protect the public and being attacked should never be part of the job.

“Anyone who commits these despicable assaults should expect to face the full force of the law, which is why we are doubling the maximum sentence for those who assault emergency workers."

“This year, as well as continuing to recruit 20,000 additional police officers, we will enshrine a police covenant in law to provide better support for our selfless officers, staff, and their families - one of the key