The United Kingdom’s transport union, TSSA, is calling for better protection and compensation for its members after a railway worker died following an attack from an irate passenger claiming to have the coronavirus.
As the BBC reports, 47-year-old Belly Mujinga was attacked, along with another female colleague, at London’s Victoria Station on March 22. The enraged passenger spat and coughed on the two workers, claiming he had the coronavirus.
Within days of the assault, both women became sick. Mujinga, who had underlying respiratory problems, was admitted to a hospital on April 2 after her condition worsened. She died three days later, survived by her 11-year-old daughter and her husband.
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes, responding to Mujinga’s death, said the union is “shocked and devastated.”
He also questioned whether the company Mujinga worked for, Southern Railway, adequately protected her and its other staff.
“She is one of far too many front-line workers who have lost their lives to coronavirus,” Cortes said. “As a vulnerable person in the ‘at-risk’ category, and her condition known to her employer, there are questions about why she wasn’t stood down from frontline duties early on in this pandemic.”
“There are serious questions about her death. It wasn’t inevitable,” he said.
Mujinga’s cousin, Agnes Ntumba, told the BBC she thinks Southern Railway could have done more to protect her.
“She shouldn’t have died in this condition. We could have prevented it—if she had more PPE or if they kept her inside instead of being on the concourse,” Ntumba said.
Frontline workers around the world have been uniquely exposed to the virus—and in places like the U.S. and U.K., have rallied for adequate protection as they continue to do essential work. Last week, America’s largest nurses union, National Nurses United, protested outside of the White House calling for personal protective equipment (PPE).
“How many of these nurses were failed by chaotic and haphazard protocols which left them vulnerable to exposure and illness?,” said Stephanie Sims, a registered nurse from Washington, D.C. “How many of these nurses died because this administration, this Congress, our elected officials, our government agencies failed to act, to lead and to protect them?”
In a widely circulated New York Times op-ed last week, one Metropolitan Transportation Authority conductor in the city wrote: “We are not essential. We are sacrificial.”
The TSSA’s Cortes not only called for more protection but for government compensation for the families of transport workers who have died from COVID-19, Al-Jazeera reports. That kind of compensation has thus far only been promised to healthcare workers in the U.K.
Managing Director of Southern Railway Angie Doll said the company was “devastated” by Mujinga’s passing.
“We take any allegations extremely seriously, and we are investigating these claims,” Doll said, adding that the safety of its customers and staff “continues to be front of mind at all times.”
Britain’s transport police say they are still looking for the man who attacked Mujinga.