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Coronavirus: Five London bus workers have died from Covid-19

Grim announcement made by Unite union as capital's public transport network remains open and continues to play crucial role in supporting frontline NHS medical staff

Joe Sommerlad
Saturday 04 April 2020 18:06 BST
Coronavirus: Lockdown restrictions could be relaxed by May, says government adviser

Five London bus workers have now died after contracting Covid-19, according to the Unite trade union, as the capital’s mayor Sadiq Khan is expected to come under increasing pressure to suspend public transport as part of social distancing measures.

Keeping buses and the Tube running enables essential services personnel including NHS staff to get to work but also places anyone who uses them at greater risk of exposure to the coronavirus due to the close proximity passengers are forced into during travel.

“Each of these deaths is a terrible tragedy,” the union’s regional secretary Peter Kavanagh said in a statement.

“Unite will assist the families of our members in every possible way during this terrible time.

“Unite has been working continuously with Transport for London (TfL) and the operators to ensure the safety of drivers and others in the industry who are performing a heroic job in getting NHS and care workers to their places of work.

“These measures include deep cleaning of buses, additional cleaning of touch points, the sealing of screens around the driver, the provision of hand sanitiser for all and placing the passenger seating closest to the driver out of bounds.

Mr Kavanagh added that he had been in touch with Mr Khan, “who shares our view that bus drivers must be fully protected.”

“My officers are holding daily meetings with TfL, exploring further safety improvements and we are absolutely committed to doing everything in our power to make the driving of buses safe during this unprecedented crisis,” he continued.

“We are also calling on the government to make provisions for transport workers in terms of personal protective equipment.”

The capital’s bus drivers have expressed their own concerns about what some see as the lack of precautions being taken to safeguard them, with one telling The Huffington Post: “Most of the national conversation has been about NHS workers’ rights and it’s an important discussion. But what about us? Who’s looking out for our interests?”

Another refuted the contention the cleaning measures being undertaken were sufficient and a third, speaking about the plastic partition between passengers and the driver’s seat, commented: “That screen is to stop crackheads from stabbing me, it’s not going to stop the coronavirus.”

The UK death toll from the pandemic rose to 4,313 on Saturday afternoon after surging by 708 in 24 hours.

The country has been in effective lockdown since 23 March, with schools, bars, many shops and gathering places shut and people told to go out only for essentials or exercise.

But Imperial College London epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, who sits on the government’s scientific advisory committee, offered a ray of hope on Saturday when he suggested there could be some let up on quarantine measures by the end of next month.

“We want to move to a situation where at least by the end of May we’re able to substitute some less intensive measures, more based on technology and testing, for the complete lockdown we have now,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

If the number of cases begins to fall soon, Professor Ferguson said, “we will be able to move to a regime which will not be normal life, let me emphasise that, but will be somewhat more relaxed in terms of social distancing and the economy, but relying more on testing.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock, both of whom have contracted the virus, are meanwhile imploring Britons not to give in to temptation and flout the rules this weekend, with warm, sunny weather expected on Sunday.

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