Uber driver dies from Covid-19 after hiding it over fear of eviction
An Uber driver has died from Covid-19 after trying to hide his illness for fear that he would be evicted if his landlord found out, a friend has revealed.
Rajesh Jayaseelan, a married father of two who came to London from India about a decade ago, died alone in Northwick Park hospital in Harrow on 11 April, according to Sunil Kumar, a friend of his.
The 44-year-old driver had “starved” for several days in his rented lodgings, telling his wife by phone that he did not want to leave his room because other residents might realise he had Covid-19 and he would be thrown out.
Kumar, 38, an NHS IT worker, said the fear was founded in an experience in March when a previous landlord allegedly ordered him to leave because he thought Jayaseelan, as a minicab driver, would spread the disease to him and his family. Jayaseelan had to sleep in his car for several nights.
By the time he drove himself to hospital earlier this month, his condition was becoming critical and he was placed on a ventilator. He died shortly after his wife and mother in Bangalore saw him unconscious in a final video call arranged by Kumar.
Jayaseelan is the third Uber driver confirmed to have died from Covid-19 in the capital, but there have been reports of several more. Zeeshan Ahmed, a father of two young children in his late 20s, died in St George’s Hospital in Tooting on Thursday. He had underlying health problems, a friend said.
“He is young, he left a young wife and children and he was the only child of his parents,” the friend told the Guardian. “He was a great person, very charming and full of life.”
Ayub Akhtar died last week of complications relating to Covid-19. Abdurzak Hadi, another driver who fell seriously ill, said the lack of clear guidelines and protection for minicab drivers left them highly vulnerable.
Some have improvised plastic barriers between the front and back seats, but many have not, concerned that doing so might breach their licence, Hadi said.
“We think that there have been at least six deaths of minicab drivers and there have been countless numbers ill, some critically,” said Yaseen Aslam, general secretary of the United Private Hire Drivers’ Association. “It is very distressing. The migrant workers in particular are vulnerable because they feel forced to work because they are not entitled to government benefits.”
Uber confirmed the deaths of Akhtar and Jayaseelan, saying it was “deeply saddened”. The Guardian has asked for comment about Ahmed.
“Our hearts go out to their loved ones and to everyone suffering during this unprecedented time,” said Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for northern and eastern Europe.
Uber last month said it would compensate drivers with up to £100 per week for up to 14 days if they were diagnosed with Covid-19, placed in quarantine or asked to self-isolate.
Kumar said Jayaseelan came from poverty and had hoped to move his family to London but could not yet afford to. He would travel to Bangalore to see his mother, wife and children, aged four and six, for two months each year. He had been worried about catching coronavirus last month and called Kumar asking how to stay safe.
“That’s when he told me that his landlord had told him to leave because he feared that with him being a driver he could bring the virus back and infect the landlord and his family,” Kumar said. “He gave him immediate notice and he had to spend a few nights in his car.”
Around 20 March, Jayaseelan was admitted to Northwick Park hospital with dehydration but was discharged after receiving intravenous fluids, Kumar said. It appears that he went back to work and his last fare was at Heathrow airport on 25 March, after which point he fell ill again.
“He was finding it difficult to breathe,” Kumar said. “He told his wife he wished he had someone that could look after him even for a week and give him some food and take care of him. In the last week he really starved. He was in a room by himself and didn’t come out because he didn’t want people to see him [being ill].”
When his condition worsened, he refused to call an ambulance because that might alert others to his sickness and cause him to be thrown out again, Kumar said.
Shortly before he died, the hospital managed to contact Kumar, who arranged for a video call with his family. Jayaseelan died on 11 April.