A local trucking association says their truckers are still facing discrimination on the roads due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The Manitoba Trucking Association’s (MTA) Terry Shaw says they still hear regular reports of truckers being refused medical or retail services because people are scared they may be infected with COVID-19.
“Truck drivers are safe,” said Shaw.
“Truck drivers are performing a critical service. And so we would encourage all Manitobans to treat non-symptomatic truck drivers as you would any other non-symptomatic Manitoban.”
In October of 2020, Shaw told Global News that truckers were being turned away from retail stores and even from getting the flu shot.
“When we do receive reports, it’s not like they’re coming in massive waves. But the simple fact is it shouldn’t be occurring at all,” he said.
Truckers still have to follow national protocols around COVID-19, but drivers are unable to quarantine for 14 days after travel, said Shaw, or the industry would shut down.
“The nature of the work for truck drivers means that they spend a lot of their day alone in their truck by themselves. As long as they’re keeping that truck clean and sanitized, that’s their workspace. That’s their living space.
“And so they’re already one step ahead of many other essential workers.”
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.
“Our industry has managed this process excellently, our drivers, our management teams, our customers,” said 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.”
Because truck drivers are traveling through numerous jurisdictions, Shaw said he believes they should be among the first to be vaccinated.
“If there are differences of opinions in regards to vaccination standards, who should be vaccinated and whether or not you can enter a jurisdiction because you’re vaccinated, then Manitoba truck drivers need to ensure that those needs are met for those jurisdictions, not just Manitoba,” said Shaw.
“Because of that, protecting Manitoba truck drivers not only protects those individuals, but it protects the Manitoba supply chain. And so we’re strongly encouraging our provincial government partners to factor that into their considerations.”
“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,” said Kelly Lee, a professor of public health at Simon Fraser University.
However, 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.
The MTA is having conversations with the province about that possibility, while the CTA is talking with the federal government, said Shaw.
“We’ve got some cross-border policy right now in place for those travelling by road that doesn’t pertain to essential service workers. But who knows at what point that’s going to change?”
“To put it plain and simple, if truck drivers aren’t able to work, there won’t be any vaccines coming in,” said Art Jones, a truck driver based in Atlantic Canada.
— With files from Morganne Campbell