Earlier lockdown would have saved bus drivers’ lives – report

Neil Lancefield, PA Transport Correspondent
·3-min read

An earlier lockdown would have saved the lives of London bus drivers, an independent review has concluded.

The University College London (UCL) study found that some of the deaths of workers infected by Covid-19 in March 2020 “would not have happened” if movement restrictions and measures to stop the spread of the virus were imposed sooner.

The research, commissioned by Transport for London (TfL), focused on the 27 London bus drivers who had been working in February 2020 and died from coronavirus between March and May.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the first national lockdown on May 23 2020, with people only allowed to leave home for limited reasons such as to work or buy food.

UCL’s report found that London bus drivers were three times more likely to die from Covid-19 than the UK average.

It also noted that safety measures such as hand sanitisers, enhanced cleaning and covering holes in protective screens were introduced too late for many of those who died.

TfL insisted it “moved quickly” to ensure bus companies took action to stop the spread of the virus.

The report recommended that all bus drivers need “continued protection” through social distancing and mask-wearing.

It also called for early interventions to reduce ill health, financial support for drivers off work due to having Covid-19 symptoms to be maintained, and a review of the impact of working patterns on fatigue.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, director of UCL’s Institute of Health Equity, said: “It is clear that an earlier introduction of the lockdown on 23 March 2020 would have saved lives.

“However, we do not know whether an earlier introduction of workplace preventative measures would have reduced Covid-19 infection and mortality in addition to the lockdown.

“We know pre-existing health conditions and ethnic composition play a role in Covid-19 infection and mortality.

“The UCL Institute of Health Equity therefore recommends implementing a number of workplace changes to reduce exposure to Covid-19, prevent avoidable ill health and improve the wellbeing of bus drivers.”

TfL’s chief health, safety and environment officer Lilli Matson commented: “This awful virus has taken much-loved colleagues from us, leaving devastated 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.

“Further measures to improve ventilation on buses are being introduced, and we are working to drive a more proactive approach to drivers’ health and wellbeing.

“In addition, we continue with our strong measures to ensure social distancing and the wearing of face coverings, and with our wider radical work alongside the mayor to improve London’s air quality.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “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.”