A railway worker has died after she and a colleague were spat at on London Victoria station’s concourse by a man claiming to have Coronavirus (COVID-19). She was 47 years old and leaves an 11-year-old daughter.
Belly Mujinga and her colleague were on duty as ticket office staff at London Victoria on Sunday 22 March 2020. They worked for Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) Southern and were out on the concourse by the ticket office when they were assaulted by a man who spat at them, coughed over them and told them he had the virus.
The two women were shaken by their experience and went into the ticket office to report the incident, also asking for the police to be called. They asked to complete their shift inside the ticket office with a protective barrier between them and the public as they were both shaken up and frightened by what had happened. At that point, under 1,000 people had died of coronavirus in the UK, but they knew it was spreading and Belly also had an underlying health issue of respiratory problems, for which she had had time off work.
However, management said they needed people working outside and sent them back out onto the concourse for the rest of their shift.
Within days of the assault, both women fell ill with COVID-19.
Belly’s condition grew worse and she was taken to Barnet Hospital by ambulance on Thursday 2 April. She was put on a ventilator but sadly died on 5 April, 14 days after she was assaulted at work. The last time Belly’s husband saw her was when she was taken away in the ambulance.
Her colleague also suffered through COVID-19 but is now thankfully recovering at home.
At Belly’s funeral on 29 April, only ten people were allowed to attend due to the lockdown being in place.
Belly was a member of the TSSA union, which has reported the incident to the Railways Inspectorate, the safety arm of the Office for Road and Rail (ORR), for investigation. TSSA is also taking legal advice on the situation and supporting her family and colleagues. British Transport Police is investigating the incident.
Manuel Cortes, TSSA General Secretary, said: “We are shocked and devastated at Belly’s death. She is one of far too many front-line workers who have lost their lives to coronavirus. The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, recently announced that £60,000 would be paid to the survivors of health and care workers who die as a result of the pandemic. Our view is that this compensation should be extended to the families of all front-line workers who perish trying to keep our country and vital services going.
“Sadly, Belly’s is just one of many family tragedies where children have had their parents taken away from them. However, there are serious questions about her death, it wasn’t inevitable. As a vulnerable person in the ‘at risk’ category and her condition known to her employer, there are questions about why GTR didn’t stand her down from front line duties early on in this pandemic. The assault she suffered at work was scary and we do not think the company treated it seriously enough.”
Angie Doll, managing director of Southern Railway and Gatwick Express, commented: “We are devastated that our dedicated colleague Belly has passed away and our deepest sympathies are with her family, with whom we have been in touch through this very difficult time.
“Tragically, many people across the country have now been directly affected by Covid-19, including those in the rail industry who are doing the vital job of ensuring train services can continue.
“We take any allegations extremely seriously, and we are investigating these claims. The safety of our customers and staff, who are key workers themselves, continues to be front of mind at all times and we follow the latest government advice. We urge people only to travel if it is absolutely essential.”
Manuel Cortes of TSSA is also worried about staff safety as travel restrictions are eased. “Rather than talking about the easing the lockdown, the government must first ensure that the right precautions and protections have been taken so that more lives are not lost,” he said.
“Anyone who is vulnerable should remain at home and home working should be the default wherever possible. Our rail industry needs to have a very serious look at what tasks are deemed ‘essential’ and must put protections in place for all our members and our passengers.”