Trucks are still moving across the Canada-U.S. border, but trucking companies say the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is still making life difficult.
Both the U.S. and Canadian governments have exempted trade from their travel restrictions. On March 16, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada would ban entry to foreign nationals except for Canadian citizens, permanent residents, family of Canadians and, at that time, American citizens. Two days later, both U.S. and Canadian governments expanded that restriction to include any non-essential travel across the Canada-U.S. border.
Truck drivers were also exempt from the 14-day isolation imposed on all other international travellers returning to Canada.
Why it matters: On paper, it looks like COVID-19 precautions won’t impact trucking traffic across the border. In reality, lack of services has added more challenge to life on the road.
Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau later said that the risk posed by those trade-based exemptions could be effectively managed with screening.
Truck drivers have since said they are running into more subtle obstacles.
There have been reports of rest stop closures or restricted services, including a story published on industry website FreightWaves, which announced that all highway rest stops in Pennsylvania would be closed following an announced state of emergency. FreightWaves later reported that some of those rest stops were reopened for parking and were adding portable toilets, although indoor services were still unavailable. The same website reported that most rest stops in other parts of the U.S. were still open.
Bill Rempel, CEO of Steve’s Livestock in Blumenort says their drivers have run into reduced services while in the U.S.
“There are changes in availability of restaurants, so they have to plan ahead a little bit more and that’s what we’re encouraging them to do,” he said.
Drivers have been encouraged to do more meal planning and meal preparation. There is still food at truck stops, Rempel noted, although restaurants themselves may be closed. Washrooms and showers, likewise, are still available at locations their drivers use, although drivers must bring their own toiletries, etc.
“The travel stops with fuelling and that, they communicate on a daily basis with the trucking industry, so they send out daily bulletins,” Rempel also said. “They’ve continued to provide fuel — there hasn’t been any interruption with the fuel service.”
Rempel says they have familiarized their drivers with COVID-19 symptoms, are limiting driver contact at offices and terminals and boosting cab sanitation when drivers switch out. The company also has a portal to inform drivers of any service change when they’re on the road.
The trucking industry has also made headlines after it was reported that some insurance providers may not be providing health insurance if drivers become ill while in the U.S.
On March 19, an article reported that at least one Atlantic-based trucking company had been told by their provider that they would not be covered, and instead advised drivers to immediately head back to Canada if they fell ill.
Rempel says there is no such danger for their employees. Their provider has assured Rempel that drivers will be, “fully covered” as long as they were showing no symptoms before crossing the border, he said.
The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association has also sought to reassure truckers. In a March 19 release, the association said it had, “confirmed that commercial truckers with group insurance coverage will continue to have coverage for emergency out-of-country medical expenses as they bring goods across the U.S.-Canada border.”
The concern stemmed from group plans with an exclusion for areas under a travel advisory, the association said. They suggested companies look at their policies and contact their providers if clarification is needed.
A livestock focus, and in particular, pigs, may work in their favour while dealing with COVID-19, Rempel also noted.
Pig shipments have required drivers be well acquainted with biosecurity. Manitoba’s pork sector has been embroiled in another fight with porcine epidemic diarrhea (PEDv), with 80 cases reported in 2017 and 82 this year. In 2017, the transport industry was among those to come under the PEDv microscope, including increased scrutiny and sanitation across the international border.
“I think the benefit we have is that we have a driving pool that is very used to change and to biosecurity and additional protocol… They take precautions; they have booties when they step out of the truck when they have pigs loaded,” Rempel said. “So, there are steps that they have to take on a daily basis about cleaning their footwear, about disinfecting their truck.”
The company hasn’t had any major delays crossing the border so far, Rempel also said.