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Mother of bus driver who died from Covid-19 says safety measures came too late

Report says earlier lockdown may have saved lives of transport workers

30 July, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Emeka Nyack Ihenacho

THE mother of a bus driver who died from Covid-19 has said that it “took too many lives to be lost” before the government acted to protect transport workers.

Anne Nyack, whose son Emeka Nyack Ihenacho died in early April, spoke to the New Journal after a new report found the high death rate among drivers could have been prevented by an earlier lockdown.

And she joined mounting calls for a public inquiry into why more was not done earlier to protect drivers, adding that the government should set up a compensation scheme for bereaved families.

“Because of the way things happened, and the fact a lot of safeguarding measures were not in place, there needs to be an inquiry,” said Ms Nyack, who lives in Dartmouth Park.

“It might give families peace of mind as to why this happened. There are a lot of questions always going through my mind. Maybe some of them can be answered.”

The report by researchers at University College London’s Institute of Health Equity, commissioned by Transport for London (TfL), found that most bus drivers who died would have been infected before the national lockdown on March 23.

Further safety measures were introduced a week after that date, and middle-door boarding on buses was finally introduced on April 12. Thirty-four bus company workers died from the virus in London, including 29 drivers.

“Sadly it took too many lives to be lost before anything was done,” said Ms Nyack. “The report highlighted a lot of things I said at the time that should have been done to protect drivers with pre-existing conditions. It’s too late for my son, but if this can help other drivers and other families in the long run, then that is a good thing.”

Separate inquiries by the Office for National Statistics and Public Health England have concluded that people from ethnic minority backgrounds have disproportionately died of Covid-19. Suggested reasons for this included existing health inequalities, housing conditions and public-facing occupations.

Ms Nyack said: “TfL have been in contact with me, I wanted to be a part of this process. As for the Government, I think they gave the families of NHS frontline workers who died £60,000 for working through the pandemic. Why are the families of bus drivers not receiving compensation? It’s like the government does not appreciate all the hard work they did.”

Mr Nyack Ihenacho drove the No 4 bus through Islington, following in the footsteps of his grandfather who was also a bus driver.  The drivers’ deaths led to criticism of London Mayor Sadiq Khan and TfL for not taking action quickly enough.

Lilli Matson, TfL’s chief safety, health and environment officer, said steps were taken, adding: “This included enhanced daily cleaning using hospital-grade disinfectant in the drivers’ cabs, the parts of the bus regularly touched by customers and in staff welfare facilities, as well as providing more separation from passengers.

“This was done, firstly, by taking the seats nearest a driver out of use and sealing up holes in the partition between drivers and passengers, and then by introducing middle-door boarding so passengers didn’t need to stand for any length of time next to drivers. The recommendations in this report provide a roadmap for action to further protect bus drivers.”

A government spokeswoman said: “Transport workers do a vital job in keeping essential journeys going, and we’re committed to keeping them safe.

“Our thoughts are with those transport heroes who have died from Covid-19.”

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