Mayor says doing 'best we can with limited facilities given by the government'
Picture: Robin Stott
At least ten London transport workers – including eight bus staff – have died of coronavirus, the Mayor of London has confirmed.
Sadiq Khan said he and Transport for London (TfL) are doing “the best we can with the limited facilities given by the Government” to keep workers safe.
Ninety per cent of bus services are still running in the capital, while the Tube is operating a reduced service, with fewer trains and the Waterloo and City and Circle lines now closed.
By the end of March, a third of TfL staff were off sick or self-isolating because of coronavirus, the Mayor has said.
Speaking on Sky News today, Mr Khan said, “We are lobbying the Government regularly, almost on a daily basis, for additional personal protective equipment and additional testing as well.”
He said the workers who had died remain in his “thoughts and prayers” and sent his condolences to their family and friends.
Mr Khan applauded transport staff who are “doing their best to keep public transport running” for essential workers.
He added, “My key message to everyone is unless you really, really have to use public transport to get to work or back home, stay at home.”
Trade union Unite, which represents London bus drivers, has also called on the Government to give workers protective kit to keep them safe.
Bus staff are disproportionately represented in transport workers deaths in the capital, with concerns about their contact with members of the public boarding buses.
Unite London regional secretary Peter Kavanagh hailed the “heroes” driving key workers to their jobs, and said he was saddened by the “tragic” loss of life.
Mr Kavanagh said, “These are terrible, dark and frightening times for all of us, but particularly for those who continue to work on the front line in lockdown Britain.”
He said the union has been working “continuously” with TfL and “doing everything in our power to make the driving of buses safe during this unprecedented crisis”.
TfL surface transport manager Gareth Powell said the network has provided “every support” to bus contractors.
TfL has increased cleaning across the bus and Tube services due to the Covid-19 outbreak
But former TfL board member Michael Liebreich said stronger action must be taken to keep drivers safe.
He said, “These are critical workers – their bosses should be taking their safety as seriously as if they were NHS staff because they are front line staff keeping London running.”
Mr Liebreich said we need to act should “as though anyone on a bus has coronavirus” and said services can’t be run under those conditions “maybe we shouldn’t be running them”.
He said passengers should be barred from entering through the front doors, and seats near the driver should be roped off.
Compartments must be properly cleaned whenever bus drivers change over during a shift, and the Perspex screens on driver cabins must be fully sealed, he said.
The former chair of TfL’s safety committee said everyone travelling on buses – not just drivers – should be told to wear face masks within the next few days.
He said, “It sounds very extreme but we’re going to have to do that. You see a big difference between countries that are doing it and those that aren’t.”
He added: “We know that this virus has a two week latency. I have absolutely no doubt tragically that those numbers [of deaths] are going to go up.”
Advice on the virus from Public Health England is available here.
Jessie Matthewson - Local Democracy Reporter
April 6, 2020