Earlier lockdown could have saved bus drivers lives, report finds

Earlier lockdown could have saved bus drivers’ lives, claim doctors after 29 London drivers died from coronavirus

  • The study into bus driver deaths was carried out by University College London 
  • Comes after revealed  29 bus drivers had died from the virus amid pandemic 
  • Report found death rates among drivers came down after lockdown imposed

Enforcing an earlier lockdown across the UK would ‘likely have saved’ the lives of London’s bus drivers who died from Covid-19, an independent study has found.

The study, carried out by University College London (UCL), found the mortality rate for the capital’s male bus drivers aged between 20-64 was 3.5 times higher than men of the same age in other occupations across England and Wales from March to May. 

The report, which was commissioned by Transport for London (TfL), comes after it was revealed that 34 bus company staff had died from coronavirus and of those at least 29 were bus drivers. 

Director of the UCL Institute of Health Equity, Professor Sir Michael Marmot, the review explicitly suggested that lockdown was the main factor that had saved bus drivers’ lives and had it occurred earlier ‘it would likely have saved more lives’. 

An earlier lockdown could ‘likely have saved’ the lives of London’s bus drivers who died from Covid-19, an independent report carried out by University College London (UCL) has found. (Stock image)

He added that ‘because London was an early centre of the pandemic, it is likely that the increased risk among London bus drivers is associated with exposure.’ 

Professor Marmot said: ‘Our review explicitly suggests that lockdown was the main factor that saved bus drivers’ lives.

‘If lockdown had occurred earlier, it would likely have saved more lives.

‘For those with high blood pressure, exposure to Covid-19 is particularly hazardous, disproportionately affecting drivers of ethnic minority backgrounds.

‘In addition to reducing exposure to the virus, all drivers should therefore be screened for health risk, with those most vulnerable to dying from the virus receiving the most benefit.’ 

The study focused on the deaths of 27 of those drivers, as one had been on sick leave for other reasons before February 2020, and another death occurred in June 2020.

Among those who died, most stopped work in the ten days either side of the March 23 lockdown, which suggests they became infected before it was imposed.

Death rates among drivers came down after the lockdown was imposed, which reinforces evidence that it was an effective measure in saving lives, the review found.

Of the 13 death certificates provided by relatives to the review, high blood pressure was identified as a contributory factor to the driver’s death in seven cases.

Cardiovascular disease, links between the sedentary nature of bus driving with heart disease and high blood pressure has been a known health risk in the profession since the 1950s and 1960s.

The review found that a high proportion of drivers who died lived in the quarter of London boroughs with the highest Covid-19 death rates in April 2020, and they were black or from ethnic minority communities, which are at more risk of becoming severely ill and dying from the virus.

Director of the UCL Institute of Health Equity, Professor Sir Michael Marmot (pictured), said that London was  ‘an early centre of the pandemic’

Lilli Matson, TfL’s chief safety, health and environment officer, said the company has been ‘devastated by the tragic deaths of our colleagues’ and it commissioned the study to try to find ways to cut the risk of others contracting coronavirus.

She said: ‘It is clear from this piece of work and others that there are certain characteristics that make people more vulnerable to coronavirus.

‘We will work with our bus operators to ensure that they consistently carry out risk assessments and appropriate support is given to those that need it.

‘We know that those with underlying health conditions, such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease, are at higher risk.’

Meanwhile London mayor Sadiq Khan said: ‘The results of the study show that a range of factors contributed to the tragic deaths, including the Government’s decision on when to go into lockdown, underlying health conditions, ethnicity and where they lived.

‘I am determined to do all I can to protect staff by putting into practice the recommendations made – building on the actions we have already taken to enhance cleaning, reduce interaction with passengers, and limit capacity.

‘This will include proper guidance for bus operators, risk assessments for staff and access to dedicated health advice and support.’ 

TfL said it is extending its wellbeing initiatives and will work with bus operators to prepare a response plan to help us make ‘immediate, consistent interventions in the event of further outbreaks’, she added.

Enhanced daily cleaning using hospital-grade disinfectant in the drivers’ cabs, the parts of the bus regularly touched by passengers, and in staff facilities, are among the safety measures which have been imposed.

The seats nearest the driver are now out of use and the holes in the partition separating them have been blocked up.

Passengers have also previously been made to board through the middle doors so they are not standing next to drivers.

The study was set up to look at what measures are working and where improvements could be made. Recommendations for any additional health measures will be considered in stage two of the review.

It comes after Britain today announced ten more coronavirus deaths in the preliminary toll — taking the official number of victims to 45,762.

Department of Health chiefs have yet to confirm the final daily figure, which is often much higher because it takes into account lab-confirmed fatalities in all settings. 

The early count — which only includes a fraction of the Covid-19 deaths in England — is calculated by adding up updates declared by each of the home nations. 

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