Truck drivers 'not our enemy' as some face challenges on the road under Alert Level 5
Driver Adam Leyte says public blaming his industry for bringing coronavirus to the province
Some truck drivers say the public is laying blame at their feet as Newfoundland and Labrador battles an outbreak of the more contagious coronavirus variant B117, amid another public health lockdown.
"They're saying that we're actually bringing the virus onto the island," driver Adam Leyte told CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning.
"We do have our own rules to follow, and because theirs are more strict than ours, they're blaming us."
Leyte said the "blame game" weighs heavy on drivers as they spend countless hours and days away from their families to ensure essential goods — including food, oil and medical supplies — make it to their destinations.
He said drivers are doing their best to protect themselves with whatever protective equipment they can get but the public doesn't see the effort.
"At the end of the week when we go home, we're praying that we did not catch it and bring it home to them. Other people that are driving, they're driving off island, some of them don't get to see their families because they come home and have to stay away," Leyte said.
"Before two weeks is up, or whatever, they're in their truck and gone again."
Now that the province is back in Alert Level 5 of the provincial government's pandemic response plan, Leyte said, things are getting tougher on road.
When the province was under fewer restrictions, he said, it was easier for drivers to find hot meals and a restroom.
But the situation has changed.
"We've already lost access to a lot of washroom facilities. Some places are staying open, some places are drive-thru only that will let us order only from the window, others will not," Leyte said.
"Some places will let us walk in to get food and coffee and stuff like that, other places will not."
In March, Leyte said, some businesses were very accommodating to truck drivers, knowing how important they were to the province's supply chain. Now in February of a new year, Leyte said some of those same businesses have changed their attitudes.
He said one driver was even threatened after making a delivery to a grocery store and had to return later in his own pickup truck to get groceries.
"It makes drivers wonder, 'Why do we still do this?'" Leyte said.
"We're doing the best we can to keep this island going in food, produce, essential medical supplies. Basically everybody wants what we're carrying, but nobody wants to deal with us."
During Friday's COVID-19 briefing, Health Minister John Haggie expressed support for drivers.
"These individuals, who work very hard, are not our enemy. They are indeed our friends and without them we would not have food, fuel, medical supplies or really a lot of essentials," Haggie said.
"I think we need to bear that in mind as part of Dr. Fitzgerald's exhortation to kindness."
Haggie said others have seen the problem as well. Restaurants in his district of Gander have been advertising trucker-friendly service, including contactless delivery and available facilities.
The health minister said the Salvation Army will be setting up a mobile kitchen in Port aux Basques on Sunday, as it did during under Alert Level 5 last year, to provide food and beverages to truck drivers.
With files from Newfoundland Morning