Wuhan evacuee transfer: Firm defends maskless drivers
A coach firm that transported Britons evacuated from coronavirus-hit Wuhan has defended itself after its drivers were pictured not wearing masks.
Horseman Coaches, based in Reading, took 83 Britons from RAF Brize Norton to a hospital on the Wirral on Friday.
The firm's drivers were featured in the national press sitting next to evacuation staff in protective suits.
The company's director James Horseman said its "heroic" drivers were never in contact with any passengers.
The passengers are being housed in an NHS staff accommodation block at Arrowe Park Hospital, where they have been put in "supported isolation" for 14 days with "all necessary medical attention".
The photos appeared in a number of national newspapers. Speaking to BBC Radio Berkshire, Mr Horseman said: "The person in the hazmat suit was a medic and their role was to be in contact with the passenger should anybody display any symptoms - thankfully nobody did - and it was a precautionary measure.
"Our drivers at no point were going to be in contact with any of the passengers.
"And Public Health England (PHE) have explained to contract this virus from somebody that is displaying symptoms, which they weren't, you would need to be in constant contact with someone for a minimum of 15 minutes."
Last month, Public Health England said there was "very little evidence of widespread benefit" from using masks outside a clinical setting.
The drivers involved in the convoy to Arrowe Park Hospital have taken time off work in quarantine conditions at home, as part of precautions taken by the company.
The coaches were in a lockup facility in Liverpool undergoing a deep clean, he said.
Mr Horseman added: "I am really proud to be involved in the repatriation of these 83 Britons and our drivers' heroic actions I hope will be remembered."
A Public Health England spokeswoman said: "Our public health experts are well-trained at assessing risk, and are adopting approaches that they have used in a number of emerging infections to reduce the risk to the public.
"This means their work focuses on identifying the areas where there is deemed to be a risk."