Truck drivers are urging the Ontario government to prioritize their vaccinations as the province launched a state of emergency and new stay-at-home order on April 7 in an attempt the slow the third wave of the Covid-19 virus.
“Hum roz maut ke muh me jaate hai (We go into death’s mouth every day),” says Amandeep Grewal, a local driver. He emphasized the need for truckers to be on top of the list for vaccinations. “We go to different places in the Greater Toronto Area, meet different people and we do not know with whom they have been in contact with,” he adds.
Dr. Gurjit Bajwa, an emergency room physician in the William Osler Health System says he has been seeing a lot of truck drivers infected with Covid coming into the ER. “The new variant is very, very contagious,” he added.
Most of the spread now is at workplaces, the physician says. Once the worker gets infected and brings the virus home, family members get sick too. Nurses, healthcare workers, transportation workers, delivery people, grocery store staff, factory and warehouse workers are all in the line of fire.
Long-haul trucker Ajay Sharma says he has been working through the pandemic and is yet to be vaccinated. The 58-year-old says truck drivers, who are part of the essential workforce, should be vaccinated as soon as possible. His daughter who works at a long-term care home has already received both doses of the vaccination.
Dr. Bajwa says there are two reasons for the high infection rate in the Peel region of the Greater Toronto Area. The first is multi-generational families. In Toronto, the average number of people in a home is around 3.5, in Peel it is 5.2, especially in Brampton. Many people also have renters living in their homes. Once one person brings the virus home, more are going to get infected.
Second, Dr. Bajwa says, a lot of people in Peel work in frontline jobs. They cannot stay at home, cannot do Zoom conference calls, they have to go to work. “They are in peoples’ faces and they are more likely to get infected,” he says.
Driver Grewal, 40, says some staff in the shipping and receiving office at his workplace, were infected by the virus and got sick. “I will take the vaccine at the first opportunity,” he says.
Trucker Sharma says two drivers at his company have been infected with Covid and are self-isolating at home. He says he take precautions while working and will take the vaccine as soon as his age group is eligible for it.
“Sometimes customers do not want to touch the documents we have to hand over,” Sharma says. “But we have to take whatever paperwork they give us. This is not right.” He says that in some places in the U.S. people don’t wear masks, and drivers have no choice but to deal with such situations.
Dr. Bajwa says the government should start thinking about different ways to vaccinate people and not only use age as criteria for the rollout. “Go out to truck yards, workplaces, line up people and say here’s the vaccine, come get it,” he adds.
Anyone who is eligible should get vaccinated, there is no reason not to do so, the ER physician says. “Just for another month or two, until everybody gets vaccinated, please don’t go to other peoples’ houses,” he urges. “For a party, for a dinner, for social reasons, please do not go out. That must stop. I know people are frustrated, we’ve been in this thing for 13 months. One or two more months and we will turn the corner,” he promises.
By Leo Barros, Associate Editor