47-Year-Old Railway Station Employee Dies of Coronavirus After Being Spit on While Working

A U.K. train station ticket office employee died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, after she was spit on while working at Victoria Station in London. Belly Mujinga, 47, and a colleague were both assaulted by a person who spat at and coughed over them before telling the two he had the coronavirus on March 22, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) said Tuesday. Mujing had underlying health conditions and worked for Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) on the main concourse at the time of the incident.

British Transport Police told CNN Tuesday there will be an investigation in the incident. Mujinga's union, the TSSA, said she and her co-worker "begged" their managers to let them work inside, behind a protective barrier due to the coronavirus. "Management said they needed people working outside and sent them back out onto the concourse for the rest of their shift," the union said. The two women completed their shift with no personal protective equipment.

Mujinga had respiratory problems, had an operation, regularly visited the hospital and took time off work in the past, the union said. They said GTR knew about her underlying health conditions, but still had her working until March 25, when her doctor called her work. TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes also accused GTR of not taking the incident seriously, which the company disputed.

"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," Cortes said in a statement the union released. "There are serious questions about her death, it wasn't inevitable."

GTR said it was investigating the case and was "devastated" by Mujinga's death. "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," Angie Doll, managing director at Southern Railway and Gatwick Express, said in a statement. The company is staying in contact with Mujinga's family, Doll added.

Mujinga and her co-worker both became ill days after they were attacked. Eleven days after the incident, she was taken to a hospital in an ambulance and put on a ventilator. She died on April 5. She is survived by her husband and 11-year-old daughter.

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In its statement on Tuesday, the TSSA also criticized the U.K. government, which has begun easing some social distancing requirements. "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," Cortes said. "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."

The U.K. has reported more than 234,000 coronavirus cases as of Thursday, reports Johns Hopkins University. The country's death toll stands at over 33,600. Worldwide, there are more than 4.4 million cases, including 1.4 million in the U.S.