Vaccine rules for truck drivers entering Canada come into effect

by Morgan Lowrie THE CANADIAN PRESS

A Covid-19 vaccine mandate for truckers crossing into Canada from the United States came into effect on Saturday, causing “limited delays” at some border crossings and raising worries about future disruptions to the supply chain as the pandemic drags on.

As of Saturday, Canadian truckers must be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid quarantine and a pre-arrival molecular test, while unvaccinated American big-riggers are to be turned back at the border.

Trucking industry groups accused the Canadian government of sparking confusion after the Canada Border Services Agency suggested earlier this week that Ottawa was backtracking on the rules, only to have that information refuted the next day.

The president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance said Saturday the application of the mandate could potentially cause some slowdowns at the border in the coming days if unvaccinated truckers have to turn their big rigs around.

But Stephen Lakowski said the bigger concern centres on wider effects on the supply chain caused by driver shortages, which are likely to be felt cumulatively in the coming weeks and months.

Mike Millian, the president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, said in an interview that as of midday Saturday the borders appeared to be flowing smoothly.

Facing consequences

But he said some Canadian truckers who were dispatched during the 16-hour window in which Ottawa’s erroneous announcement spread through the sector will have to face consequences upon their return.

“There’s going to be drivers returning in the next two, three, four days who were expecting not to quarantine who will have to quarantine,” he said in a phone interview.

A spokeswoman for the Canada Border Services Agency said in an email that traveller processing times in the commercial stream had increased at some ports of entry, resulting in “some limited delays” in the hours following the new rules.

Rebecca Purdy added that there is normally a transition period when new measures are introduced, and said the CBSA would adjust its resources and staffing levels in the coming days if needed.

Drivers sidelined

Up to 26,000 of 160,000 truckers who make regular cross-border trips will be sidelined, adding further bottlenecks and potential price hikes to the flow of goods into the country, according to the Canadian Trucking Alliance. Lakowski said Canadian trucking companies have been working to adjust to the mandate by reassigning unvaccinated truckers to domestic duties.

Public health experts have suggested in recent days that Canada could be nearing the peak of infections from the pandemic’s current, Omicron-driven wave. But hospitalizations and deaths, which tend to lag behind, showed no sign of easing on Saturday.