Coronavirus ‘ghost towns’: Saskatchewan trucker has isolating view of pandemic

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Trucker troubles amid COVID-19
WATCH: As critical to our way of life as ever, Global's Joe Scarpelli catches up with truck drivers to see how they're faring during the pandemic – Mar 27, 2020

Regina trucker Chris Smyth hasn’t seen anything like this during in his 10-plus years on the road.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has brought forth personal protective measures and supply concerns while the trucking industry continues to transport goods.

“If the public could just have patience with us. I know a lot of the people are frustrated with the grocery stores not keeping stock and stuff like that, but we’re out here,” Smyth said.

“We’re trying as hard as we can to keep everything moving. A lot of long days out here.”

While delivering fuel with Lowridin’ Carriers, Smyth has noticed “we’re definitely in different times” since the pandemic hit.

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“The best way I can say it is traffic is down and pulling into different towns, small towns or even some of the bigger centres, they are like ghost towns — not the hustle and bustle of regular life,” Smyth said.

“We’re able to get in and do our jobs a little more efficiently, but at the same time, the social life isn’t there and… it kind of makes you wonder ‘what’s really going on?’ ‘How people are really taking it?’”

A photo of downtown Saskatoon on March 21, 2020. Ian Robertson / Supplied

One of the provincial measures brought into effect has restaurants reduced to food delivery and drive-thru only. According to Smyth, it’s had an impact in more than one way.

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“Restaurants and diners are closed, where we usually take our breaks. That cuts out the little bit of social life that we do have,” Smyth said.

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“I ran into a fellow driver here last week, an older man, and he looked just down in the dumps… he’s said that he’s really struggling because he doesn’t have his usual coffee shops to stop into and just chat with the locals or have a little bit of a social life.”

According to Susan Ewart, executive director of the Saskatchewan Trucking Association, the Thank a Trucker campaign was put out a couple of weeks ago as a way to highlight the drivers’ efforts.

“Truck driving is considered to be an essential service. Those men and women that are out on the roads today, they really are putting themselves on the front line,” Ewart said.

“We just wanted to make sure that the public understood the critical role that trucking does play in our economy and that we should be thanking those people.”

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The campaign on social media aims to generate kindness on highways amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is an odd time. We just need to spread a little more kindness. It is weird. This whole kindness issue is taking off… that sense of community is a little bit amazing,” Ewart said.

Smyth said the campaign is working.

“[People] only see the truck. They don’t see the guy behind the wheel,” he said.

“There’s a lot of places now that are offering a hot meal. You can phone and order it ahead and they’ll come right to the truck. It is making life a little bit easier out here.”

Regina trucker Chris Smyth (left) and his employer Justin Wright, of Lowridin’ Carriers, visiting on a rare break. Chris Smyth / Supplied

The provincial government said, on an average day, roughly 38,000 trucks are travelling along Saskatchewan highways.

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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