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Truckers navigate muddied health guidelines amid coronavirus pandemic, hope for vaccine priority

Click to play video 'Canadian truckers pushing for vaccine priority as essential workers' Canadian truckers pushing for vaccine priority as essential workers
WATCH ABOVE: Canadian truckers are pushing for vaccine priority as essential workers. Morganne Campbell reports – Feb 9, 2021

Canadian truck drivers continue to navigate the bumpy roads of COVID-19 restrictions as the industry is federally mandated but provincially regulated, which means public health guidelines change depending on where you live.

“It’s all about prior planning. We know now in the industry when you go to Prince Edward Island, you get there, you go load, you deliver, you reload and then you leave. You don’t stop for coffee, anywhere,” explains long-distance trucker Josh O’Keefe.

“Most of us try to run through Quebec at night,” added O’Keefe, who says most truck stops close up in time for Quebec’s 8 p.m. curfew.

Read more: Canadian truckers’ fears of U.S. amid coronavirus aggravate risk of driver shortage

Since the beginning of the pandemic, four million commercial vehicles have crossed the Canada-U.S. border, and the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) is reporting only a “handful” of COVID-positive cases among its members.

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“Our industry has managed this process excellently, our drivers, our management teams, our customers,” says Stephen Laskowski, the president of the CTA.

“(Professional drivers) face different regulations in each province every day prior to COVID, so this is not a unique challenge, it’s a different challenge.”

New Brunswick is one of the only provinces looking to develop a plan to conduct rapid testing of truck drivers and daily commuters who travel out of province, many of whom work in Nova Scotia, P.E.I. or even Maine.

Read more: ‘I’m not willing to go’ — Canadian truckers worry about entering U.S. due to coronavirus

There are medical professionals who suggest testing only goes so far, adding that truck drivers should be prioritized for vaccination to ensure the supply chain isn’t disrupted.

“Truck drivers should be vaccinated, flight crews should be vaccinated as a priority because they can’t do their job otherwise and they’re doing an essential job so that will reduce the amount of trips that you have to tightly contact trace and so on,” says Kelly Lee, a professor of public health at Simon Fraser University.

For the most part, truck drivers aren’t included in the first phases of vaccine rollout plans, which, like public health guidelines, vary from province to province.

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Click to play video 'Ontario launches IT portal for COVID-19 vaccine bookings' Ontario launches IT portal for COVID-19 vaccine bookings
Ontario launches IT portal for COVID-19 vaccine bookings – Feb 9, 2021

“To put it plain and simple, if truck drivers aren’t able to work, there won’t be any vaccines coming in,” says Art Jones, a truck driver based in Atlantic Canada.

The CTA supports vaccinating front-line health-care workers first but says when the vaccines are handed out beyond those medical workers, truckers want to be part of that prioritization.

“We’re working in a collaborative manner to determine that,” said Laskowski.

Beginning next week, anyone arriving in Canada at a land border will need to show a recent negative COVID-19 test but the Trudeau government has announced truck drivers are exempt.

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