While Boris Johnson was shaking hands with Covid patients, bus drivers were getting the disease and dying.
In March 2020, BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg asked a senior member of the government if they were worried about coronavirus. “Personally, no” came the response.
In the following weeks, the government delayed lockdown and allowed large sporting events like the Cheltenham Festival and Liverpool vs Atletico Madrid game to go ahead. Italy, Spain, France and other European countries all ordered lockdowns but the UK delayed.
Boris Johnson boasted of shaking hands with a ward full of coronavirus patients and said the UK could “turn the tide of coronavirus in 12 weeks”, showing he still didn’t get the seriousness of the virus.
All the while, in London, commuters continued to pile onto crowded buses to get to work and, a new study by University College London shows, 22 bus drivers contracted coronavirus who went on to die from the disease.
This finding led the study’s author, Sir Michael Marmot, to conclude: “It is clear that an earlier introduction of the lockdown on 23 March 2020 would have saved lives.”
When lockdown and hygiene measures were introduced, many bus drivers kept going to work. But deaths since then have been at a much lower rate.
Of the 27 drivers who died in the early months of the pandemic (March to May 2020), 22 are likely to have caught the virus before lockdown, the study found. In the six months between June 2020 and January 2021, a further 15 London bus drivers died.
Trade union Unite’s lead officer for London buses John Murphy said the finding was a “damning”. He said: “The government had the information about the danger of Covid-19 and it failed to act, which dramatically and tragically increased bus driver deaths.
“London bus drivers were essential to keeping the capital moving during the lockdown but they were left needlessly exposed by government inaction. When the government should have been locking down and saving lives, it was still talking about herd immunity.
“From well before the lockdown was announced, Unite was forcing bus operators and TfL to stricter safety measures to protect drivers. This culminated in the closing of front doors and the full sealing of the cabs to protect drivers, alongside a host of other measures.”
“The government has a moral duty to end the delay in launching a full public inquiry into the pandemic. The reasons for its failure to act and introduce a lockdown earlier must be fully understood and explained.”
Over half of the bus drivers surveyed by the study agreed that the various safety measures introduced before 23 March improved their safety at work.
Joe Lo is a co-editor of Left Foot Forward
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