As the Quebec government ramps up measures to protect the public from the new coronavirus, economic disruptions are rippling through the province’s fragile taxi industry.
Elias Dabneh, who works in downtown Montreal, told Global News that his business is starting to dwindle. While he usually picks up 10 customers on a regular day, he only had three passengers on Friday.
“Everybody is afraid of the virus,” he said.
Taxi drivers like Dabneh said they started feeling the pinch after the province rolled out new directives aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
As part of the protocol, government employees returning from trips abroad are ordered to stay home in quarantine for 14 days. Travellers are also being asked to do the same.
Quebec schools, universities and daycares also closed for two weeks. Aside from the public sector, the province is also asking employees who can work from home to do so.
Azzi Lubaili was parked for hours on Saturday outside the bustling Queen Elizabeth Hotel in downtown Montreal. While he was hoping to attract some business, he said he didn’t get a single customer within a five-hour period.
“There is no one in the streets,” he said. “Hotels are empty, restaurants are empty.
“There are no clients.”
Transport Minister François Bonnardel said on Saturday in a tweet that preventive instructions were provided to taxi companies and ride-sharing services amid the growing number of COVID-19 cases.
Among the recommendations, taxi drivers are asked to regularly clean their cars and to avoid touching their faces. They should also stay at home if they have a cough or fever, which are key symptoms of coronavirus.
However, the measures don’t only apply to workers. The province says taxi drivers should tell customers to cover their faces with either a mask or, failing that, a scarf, if they have a fever or cough.
As the number of cases rises every day, taxi drivers like driver Miguel Vilbuan told Global News he plans to clean his vehicle up to four times a day, but he said the situation won’t change if customers are afraid of the virus.
“It’s a virus that leads to panic a bit but we also should not be panicking,” he said.
Uber confirmed in a statement it also has no intention of stopping service, but that it is working to keep users safe. The company said it is in close contact with local health authorities.
— With files from Global News’ Olivia O’Malley