Earlier lockdown could have prevented London bus driver deaths

An earlier national lockdown at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic could have prevented the deaths of London bus drivers, a new report has found.

The TfL-commissioned report from University College London’s Institute of Health Equity found that, of the 27 London bus drivers who died between March and May 2020, 22 of them probably caught the virus before lockdown measures were introduced on March 23.

The report also found that London bus drivers were three times more likely to die from Covid-19 than the general population of the UK, owing in part to factors such as age, race and higher levels of poverty in the areas where they live.

Since the start of the pandemic, 88 London transport staff have died from the virus, including 51 bus drivers.

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Lilli Matson, TfL’s chief health, safety and environment officer, today said: “This awful virus has taken much-loved colleagues from us, leaving devasted family and friends behind.

“It is our duty to do everything humanly possible to keep bus drivers safe in this pandemic. This report helps to reinforce what we are doing and shows where we can redouble our efforts.

“We will work closely with the bus operators to ensure that those suffering or at risk from coronavirus will continue to receive support, with vulnerable drivers having to shield being able to stay at home, with sick pay for those with symptoms and access to a range of services.”

Ms Matson added that there would be further measures introduced “to improve ventilation” on buses, and that “a more proactive approach to drivers’ health and wellbeing” would be taken.

Today’s report, the second of a two-phase report from UCL, made several recommendations about how to protect London’s bus drivers against the risk of Covid-19, including by continuing to reduce their risk of exposure and monitoring their health.

Many of the bus drivers contacted for the study reported pre-existing breathing conditions that can put them at higher risk of experiencing severe Covid-19 symptoms.

The report therefore recommended that both the Mayor of London and the Government make tackling poor air quality on London’s roads a priority, noting that bus drivers have “high levels of exposure”.

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Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “The second part of UCL’s study makes clear that if the Government had announced a national lockdown earlier it would have saved drivers’ lives. We know that underlying health conditions and ethnicity were also contributary factors. The drivers’ survey has meant we have been able to hear from them directly, and I am pleased that the majority of respondents believe that the measures we introduced early on in the pandemic improved their safety.”

The mayor added that he and TfL would be implementing the report’s recommendations “in full”, including the continuation of enhanced sick pay for those who are ill or need to self-isolate, and by “taking tough action” against people who refuse to wear face coverings.

London’s buses are run by several operators under contract to TfL. Though TfL works with operators to promote best practice, it is the legal responsibility of the operators to look after the health and safety of staff.

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