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Family of driver killed by coronavirus call for more protection on buses

'He was at risk with nothing in place for his safety'

09 April, 2020 — By Bronwen Weatherby, Tom Foot

Emeka Nyack-Ihenacho

THE family of a bus driver who died from the coronavirus have called for workers to be given protective equipment so they can “do their jobs and go home to their families safely”.

Emeka Nyack-Ihenacho, also known as Meks, died on Saturday after becoming infected. The 36-year-old, a former William Ellis pupil from Dartmouth Park, had been a bus driver for seven years and drove the No 4 bus from Blackfriars to Archway. Before that, he was a postman with a delivery route around Kentish Town where he was well known.

Yesterday (Wednesday), the Government announced that 7,097 people have now died from the coronavirus in the UK – with 938 of those deaths registered in just one day.

As the numbers continue to escalate, the demand from Government for people to stay at home remains in place. Symptoms include a persistent cough and a fever. While many have mild illness, others need hospital treatment to help with breathing, including the prime minister, Boris Johnson, who has been treated in intensive care this week.

In London, 14 transport workers have now died amid concerns that drivers are exposed while trying to keep the system running for fellow key workers. Mr Nyack-Ihenacho is one of three Metroline drivers to have died.

His mother, Anne Nyack, and Tamara Carrick, the mother of his son Makiah, told the New Journal how he had continued doing the job he loved “to provide for his family, even though he was at risk with nothing in place for his safety”.

They said: “All bus drivers need adequate protective equipment provided to enable them to do their jobs and go home to their families safely. This virus is taking lives and leaving families in immense pain. He has left behind a mother, sister, son and best friend.”

In a tribute posted on Facebook, Ms Carrick said: “There will be no more ‘bring your dad to school’. No dad to take him to his first football game. No more mum and dad at his Christmas play. There will be no mum and dad cheering him on at the finish line. But I tell you what, I will be stood there cheering him on extra loud. So please, please think about going out and potentially doing this to another child. Who knows, it could be yours, your loved ones, anyone. Even just a friend.”

Ms Nyack filmed a harrowing video interview for the BBC in which she described her son’s final moments at home when he told her: “Mum, I’m not going to make it.”

Mr Nyack-Ihenacho’s family are now raising money to pay for a fitting send-off despite the current circumstances. A total of £5,000 has already been donated.

“Everyone has been amazing and it’s overwhelming how many people have contributed and how much he was truly loved,” they said. A childhood friend, Michael Rodrigues, 33, said he wanted people to think about the “sacrifice” key workers such as Mr Nyack-Ihenacho are making during the coronavirus crisis.

He added: “I want to get it out there that this is killing people. People need to stay at home. “It is no way to go. He was just doing his job, to provide for his family. It’s the only reason he was out there and people should remember that. “I’m 33 and I haven’t been watching this thinking I’d be OK, but now I am actually scared. It’s not just old people. People shouldn’t be out at other houses.”

Pete Connell, who knew Mr Nyack-Ihenacho during his time as a postman, said: “He just seemed like a really lovely bloke. Always friendly, always chatty – a salt of the earth kind of guy. He seemed like he had a happy soul.”

Nick Bromley, a colleague of Mr Nyack-Ihenacho’s at Holloway Bus Garage, said: “Emeka was someone I always chatted to. He was a lovely guy and we are all going to miss him a lot.” Mr Bromley questioned whether transport companies still need to have all their drivers in work now they are running a reduced schedule for fewer passengers. Unite, which represents more than 20,000 London bus drivers, said “more needs to be done” to protect its members.

The union’s lead officer for London buses, John Murphy, said: “Obviously there’s a feeling of fear amongst our members and it really has been brought home to us by the recent deaths. Although the buses are run by different operators there’s a real sense of community – family even – among London bus drivers, and what’s happened has had a dreadful impact on us all. People who have died are people many have known for years and it has really opened people’s eyes to the reality that it could be them next.:

“Drivers don’t feel at this moment that they’re being properly protected.” The union’s health and safety reps have been released full-time from their duties to focus on ensuring safety measures are in place, including deep-cleaning of buses, supply of sanitiser, placing seats next to the driver out of bounds and strict social distancing measures in garages and depots.

But Mr Murphy said the shortage of hand sanitiser products and the procurement of protective equipment remains a concern. Unite said it is now putting pressure on Transport for London (TfL) and its operators to block the front doors of buses so passengers can only enter and exit from the centre or the rear. It also wants companies to put a limit on how many people can be on buses at one time, and to provide face masks for drivers.

“Everyone recognises the NHS is at the epicentre of this crisis but it’s our drivers who are taking those vital doctors and nurses to and from work,” said Mr Murphy. “Garages first got hand sanitiser five days after the lockdown was announced – we really should have been more prepared and the problem continues to be procurement and supply of these products.”

Sadiq Khan has been urged to do more to protect bus workers

And he said people using public transport for non-essential journeys continue to pose a risk to bus drivers, adding: “Everyone who uses public transport of any public service such as the NHS needs to treat it with the utmost respect and care. Individuals have a responsibility to behave in a way that doesn’t endanger others. If a person gets ill and has to go to hospital and there is no nurse to care for them, they need to ask themselves what role they played in that. You are putting the lives of key workers, bus drivers and yourselves at risk. “Our condolences are now with the families of those who have died. If there had been one death it would have been too many. It has really hit home to everyone.”

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has said he will continue to follow the advice of the World Health Organisation and Public Health England which says people in non-care settings should not be wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). Mr Nyack-Ihenacho’s family strongly disagree with the Mayor’s stance, with his mother telling journalists she holds Mr Khan responsible for her son’s death.

In a tribute to the lives lost and those who are still working in the city’s public transport system, Mr Khan said: “I have been clear that our incredible public transport staff – on the buses, tubes, trams and trains – are critical workers, making a heroic effort to allow our NHS staff to save more lives. “All drivers in London buses are shielded by a Perspex screen and TfL have ensured measures have been taken to keep staff as safe as possible, with enhanced cleaning, stopping passengers from riding near drivers and boosting social distancing at stations and stops. “But we all need to play our part, too, and that means fewer Londoners using the public transport network. Please follow the rules.”


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