WINNIPEG -- Manitoba’s top doctor is urging restaurants not to single out truck drivers, after reports some have been refused service over fears truckers are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

“It’s a bit disappointing to hear the adverse things directed at truck drivers in the province,” said Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin on Thursday.

Roussin came to the defence of truckers, saying they are essential workers who have kept the province’s economic engine running during the COVID crisis. 

“We shouldn’t be stigmatizing truck drivers. We should be thanking them. They’ve kept out supply chains open. They’re taking risks,” said Roussin.

Truck drivers are considered essential workers and are exempt from travel restrictions. Of the province’s 318 COVID-19 cases, eight are linked to truckers, according to the Manitoba Trucking Association. 

“One of the reasons Manitobans were able to stay home and self-isolate comfortably was because Manitoba truck drivers didn’t stay home,” said Executive Director of the Manitoba Trucking Association Terry Shaw.

Last week, Shaw said a trucker phoned his office saying he and his wife were asked to leave a local restaurant. 

“He expected table service and he was unfortunately denied that. We reached out to the head office and they said that shouldn’t have happened.”

Shaw said he has received at least five reports of truckers being turned away at restaurants in the last three months. 

While rare, he said this shouldn’t be happening at all. 

“We’re not receiving reports of nurses or elder care workers being removed from restaurants, but we are receiving reports, albeit small ones, of truck drivers.”

Winnipeg truck driver Anil Rana, who drives across the prairies, hasn’t been refused service, but said some customers gave him a hard time the last time he stopped for a meal.

“They shouted ‘Why are you parked here?’ They don’t understand how difficult it is to be working at this time,” said Rana.