The deaths of some of the 51 London bus drivers who died from coronavirus could have been saved if the Government had ordered last year’s first national lockdown earlier, an independent report has said.
The Institute of Health Equity at University College London has published new research commissioned by Transport for London (TfL) - the second report in a two-part study looking at the impact of coronavirus on London bus drivers.
TfL said there have been 65 deaths of London bus workers reported as being due to coronavirus, of whom 51 were bus drivers. The study covers the deaths of 27 of those drivers in the period March to May 2020
The report notes that 22 of these drivers ceased work by 3 April. It states: ‘This suggests that they became infected before lockdown.’ The report also notes that after lockdown, death rates among drivers came down.
It adds that many other measures to protect drivers ‘were not really tested’, as they were taken close to or after lockdown on 23 March last year.
However, others have criticised TfL and bus companies for not acting quickly enough to protect drivers.
The report states: ‘With the benefit of hindsight, some of the deaths to London bus drivers and other key workers who were infected in March 2020, would not have happened if lockdown had been introduced earlier and all the current measures and evidence described above were in place and achievable then.’
London mayor Sadiq Khan said: ‘Our heroic frontline transport workers have worked tirelessly throughout the immensely challenging past year, and I am hugely grateful to each and every one of them.
'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 contributory factors.
‘We will continue to do everything we can to keep staff and passengers safe, and from this week we will be further improving air flow onboard by fitting a new part to windows to keep them permanently open. We will also be implementing the report’s recommendations in full.’
The Unite union’s lead officer for London buses, John Murphy, said: ‘This is a damning verdict on the government’s failure to introduce an earlier lockdown.
‘London bus drivers were essential to keeping the capital moving during the lockdown but they were left needlessly exposed by government inaction.’
The report recommends:
- continued adherence and promotion of social distancing and masking wearing in driver facilities
- early interventions on ill-health, particularly to help address the problem of obesity in younger drivers
- continuing to build on TfL's work to address the issue of fatigue amongst bus drivers who experienced coronavirus symptoms
- recognising the need for ongoing financial, clinical and psychological support for drivers with 'Long Covid' by government and employers
- clear communication and enforcement of the coronavirus safety measures, such as passengers wearing face covering as the city unlocks and passenger numbers increase
- more consistent recording of the ethnicity of bus drivers in line with the NHS
- improving air quality on London's roads after drivers reported issues of ongoing breathing problems after experiencing coronavirus symptoms