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A railway worker in the United Kingdom died of COVID-19 after likely being infected with the novel coronavirus by an ill traveler who allegedly spat on her, the worker’s union announced Tuesday.
Belly Mujinga, 47, was working for the Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) at Victoria station in central London on March 22 when the incident occurred. Mujinga and her colleague were assaulted by a member of the public who spat and coughed on them, telling the two women he was positive for COVID-19, according to a statement from her union, Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA).
The women reported the incident to the ticket office and asked for police to be called, according to the union.
“Belly and her colleague begged to be let to work from inside the building with a protective barrier between them and the public for the rest of that day. They were concerned for their safety. Management said they needed people working outside and sent them back out onto the concourse for the rest of their shift,” the statement reads, noting they were reportedly not provided with masks or other personal protective equipment (PPE) at the time.
“The man said he had the virus and spat on them. They reported it to their supervisor. Belly came home and told me everything,” her husband, Lusamba Gode Katalay, told ITV.
Both women fell ill with the virus within days. Mujinga, who suffered from underlying respiratory issues, according to the union, was taken to Barnet Hospital on April 2, where she was ventilated. On April 5, exactly two weeks after the attack, she died.
In a statement, Manuel Cortes, the general secretary for TSSA, said the union was “shocked and devastated” to learn of Mujinga’s passing.
“She is one of far too many front-line workers who have lost their lives to coronavirus,” he said, in part.
Speaking to ITV, the 47-year-old’s husband said the last time he saw his wife was when she was taken by ambulance to the hospital.
“That was the last time I saw her. We just said, ‘Be good,’ and that God is in charge,” he said. “We did a WhatsApp video in the 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.”
A funeral was held for Mujinga on April 29, though only 10 people, including the woman’s husband and 11-year-old daughter, were allowed to attend due to social distancing measures.
Cortes, the TSSA general secretary, accused GTR of not treating the assault “seriously enough.”
“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,” he said, adding: “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.”
A spokesperson for the British Transport Police confirmed to ITV that it is investigating the attack, calling for witnesses.
Mujinga — who was described by the union as a “much-loved mother, wife, sister, friend and colleague” — was remembered by her husband as a “good person, a good mother and a good wife.”
“She gave her friendship to many people. She was a caring person and would take care of everybody,” he added.