The federal NDP health critic says he is greatly concerned that there is no tracking of COVID-19 infections in long-haul truckers who are travelling back and forth across the United States border.
“I think Canadians should be not only concerned but alarmed,” said Don Davies, member of Parliament for Vancouver Kingsway.
The Public Health Agency of Canada does not collect information on long-haul truckers. The department deferred questions on COVID-19 cases in the industry to provinces and territories.
The majority of provinces, however, are not looking at infections in long-haul truckers, even though the drivers are among the few Canadians crossing into areas in the United States hard hit by the pandemic. The border between the two countries closed to most travellers in March. It is still open to people and businesses providing essential services.
As of Friday, there almost two million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and more than 108,000 deaths.
Davies said truck drivers crossing the border should be tested and data should be collected at a federal level so as to know the risks involved in fully reopening the economy.
“That’s important not only for the health and safety of the truckers and their families, but for the community at large.”
Health officials in Manitoba said Friday that two new cases in the province have been linked to a long-haul trucker and a close contact. Two other Manitoba cases were linked last week to truckers who took multiple routes through the U.S. A cluster of at least 10 cases last month was also linked to a trucking company in the province.
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, said drivers, even those without symptoms, can now get tested for COVID-19.
Trucking is necessary for the supply of goods, he added, and there is some level of risk.
British Columbia health officials said it is not currently tracking cases by profession, but that will be implemented soon. Alberta is not releasing information about professions except in health-care workers.
Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec said that level of detail is not being collected. Quebec has issued special recommendations for truckers since they do not have to be in isolation for 14 days upon their return.
Transport Canada is regularly updated by provinces, industry and labour representatives about the impact of the virus. Department spokeswoman Frederica Dupuis said in an email that measures have been put in place to ensure driver safety and access to personal protective equipment. Dupuis, too, noted that data collection remains up to provinces and territories.
Stephen Laskowski, president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, said he is not aware of any concerning number of drivers testing positive.
“We just haven’t had spikes or any problems out of the norm of society,” he said.
Access to testing has widened across Canada to include workers in the trucking industry. Laskowski said he isn’t distressed that specific statistics aren’t being collected.
Long-haul trucking as an industry largely keeps people distanced from one another, he said. And drivers and receivers have put in new protocols to ensure safety, he added.
“Long-haul truck-driving is self-isolation in itself,” he said.
“You can go days where maybe you deal with one person.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2020