Editor’s note: This article was updated to clarify that required testing for N.B. truckers will not be enforced by the province starting Monday.
Commercial truck drivers in New Brunswick who travel outside the Atlantic region will soon be required to get tested for COVID-19, according to provincial documents reviewed by Global News.
Documents indicate truckers would be required to present a negative COVID-19 test or proof of a requested/scheduled test at borders starting Monday, March 1.
But Premier Blaine Higgs said Friday this measure won’t be enforced right away.
“Although we continue to encourage weekly testing for truck drivers and people who cross borders regularly for work, childcare and custody, and for medical and veterinary care, this goal is to increase COVID-19 safety for these individuals, their families and all New Brunswickers,” Higgs said in a provincial briefing.
“However, we are not enforcing weekly testing since testing is not easily available at this time.”
Jean-Marc Picard, the executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association (APTA), says those in the industry would not be pleased with mandatory testing.
“There’s a lot of concerns, it’s overwhelming,” Picard says. “It’s not an 8-5 job. So when you get home at 2 in the morning, you have a little time off and you want to spend it with your family.”
But concerns are amplified, Picard says, because it’s only for drivers who start or end their trip in New Brunswick.
“They’re offended by that, and I don’t blame them,” he says in an interview. “I mean foreign drivers as much of a risk as New Brunswick drivers; they actually arrive from places where there’s more COVID.”
Art Jones, owner and operator of RoadWolf Trucking Ltd., says he employs five drivers. Many of their trips involve dropping off a trailer on the Quebec side of the Edmundston, N.B., border due to lack of turnaround location on the New Brunswick side.
If testing is made mandatory, he says he’ll change that drop-off point by about 20 km back, in New Brunswick, ensuring drivers don’t cross the border. Without those additional miles of service, he says the company will lose approximately $500 per week.
“One year ago, truckers were heroes. And basically, now, New Brunswick truckers are zeroes,” he says. “And we’re being discriminated against, in the fact that any other driver, it doesn’t matter if it’s from Quebec or Maine or Ontario, can come here, deliver their load, sleep the night, leave the next day, with absolutely nothing.
“I think in the bigger picture, you’re going to see more outside companies coming in here, delivering straight through, because drivers from New Brunswick are going to say ‘no, we’re not going outside Atlantic Canada.'”
Jones says the requirement for an employer to document their employees, or drivers, test results for six months will be extra challenging for small carriers.
Picard, speaking on behalf of APTA, says he’s already heard of drivers threatening to quit if they couldn’t find work within the Atlantic provinces.
Testing has been implemented for truckers entering Nova Scotia from Newfoundland and Labrador, by way of the Marine Atlantic Ferry.
In provincial documents, the New Brunswick government says testing will be available near provincial points of entry in the “coming weeks.”
Officials also say rapid testing will be offered in that same timeframe, with results available within 20 minutes.
Truckers must provide proof of either a negative, or a scheduled test, at borders.
If drivers test negative, they will not be required to self-isolate. If they test positive, they’ll be ordered to isolate until they can receive a PCR (nasal) test at the nearest assessment centre to confirm the results.
There are about 4,000 or 5,000 truckers in New Brunswick, according to the APTA, most of whom travel outside the region.