Earlier lockdown would have saved driver lives, says report

An independent review into the deaths of London bus drivers from Covid-19, led by the UCL Institute of Health Equity (IHE), has found an earlier national lockdown would likely have saved lives.

The IHE report suggested many of the drivers who died had underlying health conditions, putting them at greater risk. The analysis suggests that most of those who died had become infected in March, when workplace health and safety measures were introduced. It also suggested some part, but not all of, the excess deaths were due to a larger than average proportion of Black Asian and Minority Ethnic drivers (BAME groups having a higher Covid-19 infection and mortality rate).

The report notes that 22 out of 27 bus driver who died had ceased work by 3April, which according to the report means their infection would likely have been contracted pre-lockdown.

The report recommends continued measures to reduce drivers’ exposure to Covid-19. It suggests early interventions on ill-health prevention are needed long-term to reduce obesity in the population as a whole. With fatigue is a pre-existing issue for some bus drivers, with evidence that Covid-19 infection and lockdown have contributed to this, the study says ongoing action should be enhanced to address any new issues arising from the pandemic, following a short-term review of shift lengths, patterns and rotas.

The report says drivers who have clinically verified ongoing COVID-19 infection symptoms will continue to need financial, psychological and clinical support from bus companies and the NHS.

In anticipation of increased passenger and traffic numbers, the report suggests TfL should support drivers in the short-term through both ensuring communication of guidance to the public is clear on measures in force and those that change at any point in time, accompanied by enforcement action to support drivers.

Another suggestion is for bus operators to ensure a more complete recording of ethnicity.

More should also be done to improve air quality in London, according to the report, which acknowledged breathing problems appear to be a pre-existing issue reported by many of the capital’s bus drivers and are exacerbated in those self-reporting Covid-19.

The new report is the second of a two-part review, commissioned by TfL, to understand more about the factors relating to the deaths of drivers among bus companies operating routes within London from March to May 2020.

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