A railway station worker in Britain died from COVID-19 after she was spat at and coughed over by someone claiming to have the virus, her trade union said Tuesday.
The shocking attack has been widely condemned with Downing Street calling it “despicable.”
The transport union TSSA said Belly Mujinga, 47, contracted the virus with a colleague within days of the assault on the pair at London’s Victoria station on March 22.
“They were out on the concourse by the ticket office when they were assaulted by a member of the public who spat at them,” the union said in a statement.
“The man coughed over them and told them he had the virus.”
After falling ill, Mujinga was taken to hospital on April 2 and put on a ventilator, it added.
Mujinga, who moved to Britain from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2000, died three days later, leaving behind an 11-year-old daughter and husband.
“She was a good person, a good mother, and a good wife,” her widower Lusamba Gode Katalay said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson published his plan for exiting the coronavirus lockdown on Monday, allowing some people back to work but cautioning that all should wear face coverings in enclosed spaces as COVID-19 was here to stay.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “It is despicable for a key worker to be attacked in this way while serving the traveling public.
The TSSA said it had reported the case to rail industry safety watchdogs for investigation and was also taking legal advice.
British Transport Police confirmed it had launched an investigation into the incident. “Enquiries are ongoing,” it said in a statement appealing for witnesses.
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said Mujinga was “one of far too many frontline workers who have lost their lives to coronavirus.”
He called for the families of all such workers who have died from COVID-19 to receive government compensation, which has so far only been promised to healthcare worker victims.
Cortes also questioned if train operator Southern Railway did enough to protect Mujinga and other staff from the virus.
“There are serious questions about her death, it wasn’t inevitable,” he said.
Southern Railway managing director Angie Doll said the company was “devastated” by Mujinga’s death.
“We take any allegations extremely seriously, and we are investigating these claims,” she added, noting the safety of customers and staff “continues to be front of mind at all times.”