IRISH BUS drivers are going on strike today to protest the lack of protective equipment available to them amid the coronavirus crisis.
Bus Eireann staff reportedly made the decision after one of their drivers contracted the disease.
The strike action is expected to deal a significant blow to nurses, care staff and other essential workers who rely on their services to get to and from work.
However, fears have been heightened regarding public transport recently after it emerged that 20 bus drivers in the UK had died as a result of Covid-19.
Drivers are forced to interact with customers everyday, handing over cash and being in close contact with them for lengthy periods of time. The staff fear that without suitable protective equipment, it's only a matter of time before drivers start catching the virus.
The strike will take place unless protective equipment is provided 'immediately', or the National Transport Authority (NTA) scraps fares during the virus outbreak so drivers don't have to interact with passengers.
On Saturday, a Bus Eireann driver was suspended without pay after refusing to take fares from passengers.
The driver has since been reinstated but other staff say the threat to the safety of all drivers remains.
Bus Eireann driver David Fagan, 60, wears an industrial face mask while working to protect himself.
"Bus Eireann is doing probably the best it can," he said.
"I know it was a bit slow in getting the sanitiser hand gel, [but] they eventually got it."
David stressed that his wife and children were "very nervous" when he returns home from work each day, fearing he may have caught the virus.
"They know I don't have a screen. The ticket machine is about 2ft from you, so there's no gap. You have people standing, they put the Leap card down, you're asking when do they want to go, so there's plenty of interaction," he added.
"Other drivers are obviously concerned and they were hoping that some sort of screen would be put up."
Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Brid Smith has written to the head of the NTA, Anne Graham, and caretaker Transport Minister Shane Ross, calling on them to protect drivers and implement free public transport.
Ms Smith said last night: "I have heard there’s one confirmed case among the drivers. They’re very frightened. They know of the London bus driver deaths, they have a fraternity, they always know what’s going on in each others’ cities.
"They’re quite frightened by this. I heard they had one confirmed case. One driver said to me, 'This is escalating, Brid, because we heard there is a confirmed case of Covid now among us'.
"Of course it is a worry for them as a group of workers. What is more worrying is the lack of protection.
"Of the Bus Eireann fleet, 90% has no protective screening and PPEs [personal protective equipment] are scarce.
"It is unacceptable that our essential workers are unprotected, and the simple solution would be to implement a free travel policy for the duration of the crisis.
"The majority of the travelling public are themselves essential workers as they travel to hospitals, care homes, shops and other places of work that keep us going in these dangerous times."