‘We’re at the frontline’: Grocery workers, taxi and bus drivers providing essential services during COVID-19 pandemic

By | March 20, 2020

WINNIPEG — Doctors and health professionals aren’t the only workers providing crucial services during the coronavirus pandemic, so are taxi and bus drivers and grocery store employees.

“We’re at the frontline,” said Food Fare owner Munther Zeid. “It’s not a dangerous frontline, but it’s still a bit scary. We’re getting a lot of people coming into the store.”

Zeid said he’s extended hours to meet the growing demand, opening an hour early to allow seniors to shop from 8 a.mm to 9 a.m . He’s also allowing customers who want to keep their distance to shop privately outside regular hours if they call ahead.

Zeid said he still can’t keep toilet paper on the shelves. The store has set a limit on two packages per customer. He said local suppliers have stepped up deliveries on a wide range of products.

“Everybody is doing their part to serve the community and the city,” said Zeid.

TAXI DRIVERS CALL FOR GOVERNMENT HELP

Unicity Taxi said it’s stepped up the cleaning of vehicles, but needs more help from all levels of government, Unicity general manager Harjit Chahal said it’s running out of hand sanitizer and disinfectant products and has put out a request to the city.

“We really need these supplies, I’ve requested the city to provide these to us a soon as possible in this tough time,” said Chahal. “It’s a really dangerous time for our drivers.”

Chahal also said the company has taken a financial hit since the COVID-19 outbreak and it needs assistance to continue providing what he calls an essential service to Winnipeggers. “Some (passengers) are sick, some don’t have cars, in emergencies they call us, we are providing this service to the city.”

“If they want to keep up on the road, we need the help of the city and the province,” said Unicity chairman Tarlochan Gill. “We’ve lost almost 90 per cent of business. We are just sitting on the street. There is no business for us.” 

In a statement, a spokesperson for the city said: “Responding to the public risk of COVID-19 has caused significant challenges. The city has been in contact with all licensed vehicle for hire dispatchers, including taxi and personal transportation providers, since early last week on recommended precautions that would reduce any risk to drivers and passengers.”

AMALGAMATED TRANSIT UNION VOICES CONCERN FOR DRIVERS

The Amalgamated Transit Union held a news conference on Thursday after a driver was showing flu-like symptoms and was asked to self-isolate. 

“The operator remains at home in self-isolation. Out of an abundance of caution, the buses that the operator came into contact with over the last two days were immediately taken out of service and will be thoroughly disinfected prior to being released back into service, ” said a spokesperson for the city.

Vice president of the ATU John Callahan urged Winnipeg Transit to increase social distancing between drivers and passengers. 

“I’m hoping to look at best practices… and do what we can. I’d rather overdo it, than underdo it,” he said.

Callahan also made a plea for hand sanitizer. 

“We have to do everything we can to ensure buses are safe. It’s not only for our members. It’s also for our riding public.” 

He said, at last count ridership was down 25 per cent, but said many Winnipeggers still depend on the service. 

Callahan suggested Winnipeg Transit ask passengers without mobility issues to enter and exit only from the rear door, so drivers can socially-distance themselves from passengers.

The ATU will meet with Winnipeg Transit on Friday to discuss safety measures to try to stop the spread of COVID-19.

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