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May 24, 2020

UK transport Secretary ‘concerned’ over COVID-19 deaths in BAME community


Sun, May 24, 2020
Photo: Reporter

LONDON: Britain's transport secretary on Saturday said he is very concerned that many of the people on the frontline who have died due to coronavirus in the country have come from ethnic minorities.

“The Tory government is taking effective measures to ensure that frontline workers are fully protected when COVID-19 restrictions are eased in few days,” Grant Shapps  said while answering questions by The News at a 10 Downing Street press briefing.

When asked what measures were being taken to protect Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) workers when the transport system opens up further at the start of June, Shapps said, “I am very concerned that the right equipment is with everybody under the right circumstances. If you are a train driver and in a cab then quite clearly you are not in constant contact with other people but on the other hand in other forms of transports you could be in very close contact with other people. What we have to do is to make absolutely clear that we have the right level of protection for the people in different circumstances.”

“What I have done is to write to the transport operators hand in hand with the Public Health England to make sure that they are aware of the right equipment that should be in place including processes and procedures in rode to protect their transport workers,” he added.

Shapps said it was of great concern that 53 transport workers have died during the pandemic. “The government has asked Professor Fenton to carry out research to look into all the circumstances surrounding the deaths of a disproportionate number of ethnic minority members including in frontline services such as National Health Service (NHS) and transport network,” he said.

The transport secretary added he was “very concerned that people from the BAME communities seem to have been affected more. “We know men are affected more and we know obesity seems to have played a part. Professor Fenton’s report will be published at the end of this month,” he noted.

However, when asked whether the government will announce any compensation scheme for NHS staff from BAME communities who have left behind young children, Shapps did not answer.

The transport secretary said the government has changed rules in the last few days on people having the right to stay in the UK, “if a member of their family was working in the NHS” and if someone died because of coronavirus. He said the government was determined to learn lessons and a range of different measures are being taken by the government to get to the bottom of the issues.

Moreover, Shapps announced the government was pumping £283 million into roads, railways, buses and trams to improve public safety and protect services.

He said the funding, divided into £254 million for buses and £29 million for trams and light rail, would increase both frequency and capacity of services while ensuring there is enough space to allow passengers to keep two meters apart.

However, he said this does not mean people should go back to using public transport “whenever they like”. He pointed out that even a fully restored network will only be capable of carrying one-fifth of the pre-coronavirus capacity when social distancing is taken into account.

“I do want to stress this funding does not mean we can go back to using public transport whenever we like. Those who can still work from home, those who can, should still avoid all public transport, even a fully restored service will only be capable of carrying, at best one-fifth of the normal capacity when social distancing is taken into account,” he said.

“So only if you need to travel and you can’t cycle or walk or drive, should you take a bus, tram or train. But please, avoid the rush hour,” he urged.

Shapps said the government has deployed 3,400 staff, including British Transport Police officers and Network Rail workers, at stations to make sure passengers follow the social distancing guidance put in place.

“From June 1 at the earliest, as we move to phase two of the unlock. We will start to deploy twice as many marshalls with the assistance of groups like the charity Volunteering Matters,” he said.

Shapps said the Tory government was working with the tech industry to come up with ideas to avoid congestion and stagger journeys during rush hour. He said a personalised information service to inform people about disruption and crowding on services has been piloted over the past 12 months and will be rolled out soon.