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A railway ticket office worker has died of coronavirus after being spat at while on duty.
Belly Mujinga, 47, was on the concourse of Victoria station in London in March when a member of the public who said he had Covid-19 spat and coughed at her and a colleague.
Within days of the assault, both women fell ill with the virus.
Mujinga, who had underlying respiratory problems, was admitted to Barnet Hospital and put on a ventilator but died on April 5, her trade union, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), said.
Only ten people were able to attend the mother-of-one’s funeral, including her 11-year-old daughter Ingrid and devastated widower Lusamba Gode Katalay.
Katalay told the PA news agency about how the attack unfolded on Mujinga, whom he described as “a good person, a good mother, and a good wife” who cared for everybody.
He said: “The man asked her what she was doing, why she was there, and she said they were working.
“The man said he had the virus and spat on them. They reported it to their supervisor. Belly came home and told me everything.”
Katalay said his wife had an operation four years ago and had underlying respiratory problems. Within a week of the incident, she began to feel ill and was admitted to hospital on April 2.
“That was the last time I saw her,” he said.
“We just said: ‘Be good,’ and that God is in charge.
“We did a WhatsApp video in hospital, but then I didn’t hear from her again. I thought she might be asleep, but the doctor phoned me to tell me she had died.”
Mujinga was originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo and moved to the UK in 2000.
The TSSA has reported the incident to the Railways Inspectorate, the safety arm of the Office for Road and Rail (ORR), for investigation and is taking legal advice on the situation.
British Transport Police (BTP) are now investigating, although it is believed a complaint was not registered with them at the time, despite Mujinga and her colleague asking staff at employers Govia Thameslink Railway to contact police, the union said.
It claims Mujinga had pleaded with her employers not to be sent back outside after the assault and asked instead to work from inside the ticket office so there would be a protective barrier between her and the public for the rest of that day. The request was refused and both women were sent back out onto the concourse for the rest of their shift. The TSSA claims neither had been provided with PPE.
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “We are shocked and devastated at Belly’s death. She is one of far too many frontline workers who have lost their lives to coronavirus.
“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 she wasn’t stood down from frontline duties early on in this pandemic.
“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.
“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.”
Angie Doll, managing director for Southern Railway and Gatwick Express, said: “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.
“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.”
A spokesperson for prime minister Boris Johnson described the case as “tragic” and “appalling”. They added: “We specifically strengthened the rules and the CPS published their own guidance to ensure people are protected from this sort of behaviour. It’s a really shocking incident and our thoughts are with the victim and their family.”
Anyone found to be using the threat of coronavirus as a weapon faces criminal charges including prosecution for assault and prison.
A BTP spokesperson said: “British Transport Police have now launched an investigation into a report of two members of rail staff being spat at while working at London Victoria station on March 22.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact BTP by texting 61016 or calling 0800 40 50 40 and quoting reference number 359 of May 11, 2020.