COVID-19 making life tougher on and off the road for truckers

The COVID-19 pandemic has not driven Atlantic Canadian truckers off the road, but they say it’s getting tougher behind the wheel as rest stops, shower facilities and restaurants are closing down in the United States.

To keep the big rigs rolling, truckers are exempted from the requirement for 14-day self-isolation when crossing the border back into Canada, unless they are feeling sick.

Todd Seward of Classic Freight in Burnside, N.S., said the exemption is the only way to keep trade flowing.

“Unless drivers can continue to cross the borders, I don’t know of any other way we can get goods and products to market,” Seward said.

As of Wednesday, there were three confirmed and nine presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia.

He said the company’s drivers can refuse work, but none have so far, even with anxious families at home and increasing challenges on the road.

Challenges piling up

Along with facilities shutting down, Seward said drivers who are temporary foreign workers have been delayed at the border.

“I’ve been quite frankly shocked by my fleet and how supportive and cooperative they are to continue to go to work and they’re doing a tremendous job,” he said.

On Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said temporary foreign workers will be able to enter Canada, with the expectation that they’ll respect the government’s request to self-isolate for 14 days.

Wayne Bolivar runs WR Transport, a 40-truck operation near Bridgewater, N.S. The company hauls seafood as far south as Miami and returns with fresh fruit and vegetables.

Four or five trips a week have rapidly dropped to one or 1½ loads.

Seafood industry sources estimate three million pounds of live lobster is currently being held in storage in southwestern Nova Scotia as the market craters.

“It happened so quickly that we couldn’t prepare for picking up the shortfall. It’s a struggle,” Bolivar said.

“The other side of this is if we don’t get down, there will be no fruit and vegetables in the grocery stores either because it’s people like us that hauls this product back out of Florida. If we don’t have the load down, you’re definitely not going to be down there to bring it back.”

Bolivar said even though truck drivers are exempt from the self-isolation requirement, some drivers are married to people in the health-care sector who cannot be in contact with someone returning to Canada.

“I’ve got three that I’ve heard about so far. They’ve had to isolate themselves from their wives when they come home after being gone two weeks,” he said.

Cross-border transport trucks cross paths on the Peace Bridge at the Canada-U.S. border in Buffalo, N.Y., on Jan. 10, 2018. (Hyungwon Kang/Reuters)

“If they go to the same home with them, that means their wives can’t go back to work.”

He said some drivers are becoming reluctant to go to the United States.

“I’ve got some that will still do it because they look at the other side of this that people need it, but it’s a very serious situation right now for us,” Bolivar said.

‘If you see a truck driver, thank them’

Jean-Marc Picard of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association said it’s not a pleasant time to be behind the wheel.

“If you see a trucker, thank them,” he said from Moncton.

There have also been concerns raised about whether truckers who contract coronavirus in the United States will be eligible for private health insurance coverage.

The issue was first reported by the SaltWire Network.

Picard said he would comment on that on Thursday.

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