London bus drivers fear over risk of coronavirus with more than two dozen deaths

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London is a city that has become calm. However, with strict coronavirus blocking in place and normal unrest largely stopped, daring red buses continue to make their way through the sprawling capital with frequent service.

Buses are necessary to keep essential workers moving – although they often only carry a scattering of passengers at a time – and their drivers have spent the weeks since the epidemic traveling their regular routes.

Today, more than two dozen of these drivers have died from the virus and some say they fear for their lives, despite the new security measures implemented in recent days.

“I think we all feel that it could be any of us,” said Lorraine, 62, who is driving a route in south London. She asked that her last name not be used so as not to lose her job. Although conditions have improved in the past few days, she said, the past few weeks have exhausted her.

“To be completely honest, I felt real fear,” she said. “I don’t think I have felt such fear in my entire life that I could die. “

Although drivers have expressed concerns about the risks of coming into close contact with the public, it is impossible to say with certainty how the deceased were infected.

“The worker himself is at risk of being infected anywhere,” said Dr. Sylvie Briand, director of global infection risk preparedness for the World Health Organization, “not just where he works . “

London, like the rest of Britain, has been officially closed since March 23, all non-essential businesses being closed, schools closed and public life interrupted. But like public transport in many other cities, London’s buses and subways are still operational and circulate workers to and from hospitals, grocery stores and other essential workplaces.

Last week, new protective measures were rolled out across the city, forcing passengers to get in and out of buses at the middle or rear doors where possible and to sit in these sections, away from drivers. Passengers do not have to pay yet to avoid approaching the drivers.

But unions representing bus drivers, as well as the families of the victims, say the measures do not go far enough.

The measurements were too late for Mervyn Mally Kennedy, 67, of Croydon in south London, who had been driving a city bus for 16 years. When he reached retirement age two years ago, he decided to continue working, said daughter Penny Palmer, because he was in good health and felt up to the job.

Palmer, a nurse, said her father was not initially concerned about contracting the virus himself, although he worried about his three daughters who work in the health sector. Little advice has been given to transport workers, she said, describing it as a “forgotten sector”.

“Many bus drivers, like my father, never complained about going to work,” she said. “But I have a feeling he was nervous. “

On March 31, Mr. Kennedy returned home after a 10-hour shift, feeling unwell. High fever and dry cough appeared.

A week later, he was taken to hospital with shortness of breath. He died of a coronavirus on April 7. Palmer believes that bus drivers still lack the tools to do their jobs safely.

John Murphy, the main Unite officer for buses in London, said the deaths had a ripple effect on the 22,000 to 24,000 members of their “big family” of London bus drivers whom he described as vital element of the city.

“Every time someone on the London bus dies, it is absolutely devastating,” he said. “The effect is huge. “

He recognized that obtaining personal protective equipment, or PPE, for drivers may be unrealistic in a country barely able to provide enough for health and social service workers, but added that some thing must be done.

“We knew it would happen at the very beginning of this year,” he said. “And even today, there is no coordinated plan to produce, secure or supply the P.P.E. it is so necessary. ”

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, urged the British government to demand that people wear non-medical grade masks in public in situations where they cannot safely stay away, such as on public transport .

The World Health Organization has provided general guidelines for the use of masks in public, said Dr. Briand, but noted that authorities need to prioritize.

“For people who are exposed very often and who cannot get away physically, the use of masks makes sense,” she said. “If they are older workers who are nearing retirement age or have an underlying medical condition, this person needs more protection.”

Lorraine said that in the middle of last month, she woke up day after day that another of her comrades had died. She considers herself a “proud driver of London” who looks forward to seeing the familiar passengers on the route she has driven for decades. But she was suddenly afraid to go to work.

“And then I thought if I catch Covid-19, I live here on my own, and if I get it and they take me to the hospital, I’m not going to see my children or my little ones -children, “she said.

So she started writing letters to them, offering words of comfort if the worst happened.

In a video she made on driver deaths, Lorraine said, “I’m in danger,” adding, crying, “I’m afraid of dying.”

Looking back, she says she hit a breaking point earlier this month when she made the video. And although her fears have subsided since the front areas of the buses were closed to passengers, she is still concerned about the future of the city.

Lorraine said she had seen more people start venturing out, despite the lock still in place. This causes her to worry about the rush of people on public transportation when the restrictions are relaxed.

“They say there will be a second wave, and it’s pretty scary,” she said. “But I will take it every day as it comes. I’m going to smile. I will do my job, because I am proud to do my job and make my employees go there.

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