Canadian truckers brave American Covid crisis

by Abdul Latheef

COURTICE, Ont. – Owner-operator (Highway Cat) John Giunta takes safety seriously.

A former Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) Road Knight, he has 6 million accident-free kilometers to his credit in a career spanning more than 30 years.

Much of that was racked up during trips to the U.S., a country now reeling under Covid-19. The pandemic has infected more than 5 million Americans, killing 162,000 of them.

John Giunta 2
John Giunta. (Photo: Supplied)

That doesn’t worry Giunta, at all.

“I am very careful when I am in the United States because if there is coronavirus around me, I certainly don’t want to bring it home,” Giunta, 55, told Today’s Trucking in an interview.

Canada and the U.S. have been keeping the border closed to all non-essential travel since late March, but the restrictions are not applicable to commercial vehicles.

“We are taking every precaution necessary not to spread the disease, keeping in mind that we have to keep commerce open, because, if the truckers stop, the store shelves are going to be empty really fast,” Giunta said.

He said his employer Polaris Transportation of Mississauga, Ont., has strict safety protocols in place, and is providing all necessary protective gear as well as training on how to use it properly.

Giunta is in the U.S. at least 10 times a month, taking general freight from Ontario to Indiana, where he said it is very rare to have any human contact as Americans have started taking the pandemic seriously.

In Canada, some people have voiced concern that cross-border truckers could help spread Covid-19, but Giunta pointed out that the drivers are “pretty isolated” while on duty.

“As a matter of fact, I will say with determination that I am at less risk than the average Canadian who runs back and forth to the grocery store, doing whatever they do with their daily business.”

Shaiju Mathew
Shaiju Mathew. (Photo: Supplied)

Going smoothly

Shaiju Mathew was planning to go on vacation in March when Covid-19 hit, disrupting his holiday.

He quickly canceled his trip to India, but decided to stay home until the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic cleared.

By May 1, Mathew was comfortable enough to go back to work at Harbor Trucking in his hometown of Abbotsford, B.C.

He now hauls products such as lumber and paper from British Columbia to Washington, Oregon and California, and returns with fruits and vegetables.

“I do this four times a month, each trip lasting five days,” he said.

Mathew, 47, is no longer scared about catching the pandemic because of the strict hygiene protocols he and fellow drivers follow.

“And when I make deliveries, I don’t go inside warehouses anymore. Drivers are not allowed. It is contactless delivery these days.”

Commercial drivers are exempted from the mandatory 14-day quarantine people arriving in Canada are required to undergo.       

Still, many drivers have complained about being denied access to various services. Mathew said he was once denied entry to a bank because of his trip to the U.S., but he sees it as a rare case.

“Otherwise, everything is going smoothly,” Mathew said, adding that he is getting ready for the next trip, “early tomorrow.”

Banoof Latheef
Banoof Latheef. (Photo: Supplied)

‘Life has to go on’

Banoof Latheef, 37, a driver with Charger Logistics of Mississauga, has taken a practical approach toward Covid-19.

“Life has to go on,” he said.

Like Mathew, Latheef was also afraid to go to work at the peak of the outbreak, but then he realized that there is no point in running away from the disease.

“Both my parents, who live in Dubai, had Covid, and they have fully recovered. If you catch it, you catch it,” said Latheef.

He hauls auto parts from St. Thomas, Ont., to Chicago, Ill., two to three times a week, taking all the precautions to ward off the pandemic.

Still, Latheef is surprised by the American response to the pandemic.

“They don’t seem to care. They give more importance to their freedom, which is not wearing masks,” he said.

Onus on truckers

Owner-operator Cody Jorgensen works for a major carrier in Atlantic Canada, mainly transporting fresh and frozen food between New Brunswick and New Jersey, N.Y.

Cody Jorgensen
Cody Jorgensen. (Photo: Supplied)

Jorgensen, 41, is comfortable traveling to the U.S. because he takes all the precautions against Covid-19.

“I put the onus back on me. I don’t enter facilities just to wander around and touch things. Even prior to Covid, some of these places kind of looked gross.”

Jorgensen said he strictly follows the guidelines issued by public health officials, and had recently taken a voluntary Covid-19 test at a weighing station in Edmundston, N.B.

“I think we have to do our part. If we all do a little something, perhaps we can we can negate the outcome.”

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