London bus driver, 55, dies of Covid sparking calls for tougher safety measures as cases continue to rise

A LONDON bus driver has died from coronavirus sparking calls for tougher safety measures while infections spiral out of control.

Kofi Opoku, 55, who was based in Croydon, died earlier this week after being struck down by the deadly bug.

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Transport workers in the capital have borne the brunt of the virus with eight London bus drivers dying in the space of just three days during the peak of the pandemic in April.

Male bus drivers are the profession most at risk from the killer bug with 29 deaths from the disease.

As well as the capital there have been bus driver deaths in Bristol, Nottingham and the north-west, while hundreds of depot staff have also fallen ill, union officials said.

Tube and rail staff have also lost their lives serving the public during the crisis.

Back in April drivers claimed buses were not being properly cleaned, with one accusing Transport for London (TfL) of leaving staff to “fend for themselves”.

One firm in the West Country was using a flimsy ‘’shower screen’’ across the cab window to protect drivers leaving unions furious.

Others have been using scarves and swimming goggles as barriers. 

DRIVER DEATHS

London bus driver Mervyn Kennedy died from covid-19 on April 7 with his family blaming a "lack of personal protective equipment".

The dad-of-three, who had no underlying health conditions, passed away a day after he was rushed to hospital with breathing difficulties.

Speaking after his death, his daughter Ellen wrote on Facebook: "No more families need to grieve the loss of a loved one due to the lack of PPE."

While the daughter of driver Ranjith Chandrapala, 64, called for a public inquiry into how the bus workers are protected.

Mr Chandrapala died May after driving the No 92 bus on the Ealing hospital route from the beginning of the crisis.

Referencing a report that showed bus drivers were most at risk from covid, she told the Guardian: "“The report made it very clear that a lot of bus drivers, including dad, could still be alive today if Boris Johnson and his government had taken the pandemic seriously and locked down earlier.”

She added: "We need an initial inquiry to find out what’s gone wrong so more drivers don’t die if there is a second wave of Covid-19 and we also need a public inquiry to see why bus drivers like my dad died and for the necessary parties to take accountability for that.”

 

BUS TRAGEDY

Unite, Mr Opoku’s union, has urged TfL to do more to keep drivers and passengers safe.

Currently drivers are protected with a clear plastic screen between themselves and passengers.

But Unite, which represents more than 20,000 London bus workers, wants to ensure all screens and seals are properly installed.

It has also called for health and safety reps to be stood down from normal duties to monitor garages, and for a review and enhancement of cleaning regimes.

The death of Kofi Opoku is a terrible reminder of the horrible human cost of Covid-19.

Unite officer John Murphy said: "The death of Kofi Opoku is a terrible reminder of the horrible human cost of Covid-19. Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.

"With infection rates rising swiftly and the knowledge we have gained from the first wave, it is absolutely essential that all these safety measures are introduced to protect bus drivers and their passengers.

"During the first lockdown London bus drivers played a vital role in keeping the capital moving, and for that too many paid the ultimate price.

"Significant safety procedures have been already introduced, but action needs to be taken to reinforce those measures."

London was once the UK’s hot spot for covid but it has since been overtaken by the North with Manchester having an average of 543 cases per 100,000 people, and Nottingham has seen 496.8 infections per 100,000 residents.

Richmond is the capital’s new coronavirus hotspot – as cases rise across the city.

The West London borough now has the highest infection rate in the capital, with 112.1 new cases per 100,000 people.

Almost all of the London boroughs have seen coronavirus cases rise in recent weeks, with Richmond now ahead of Redbridge as the latest hotspot.

 

 

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