Coffs Harbour cab driver Chris Parker.
Coffs Harbour cab driver Chris Parker. Matt Deans

Early sign of Covid-19 crisis a real shock for this driver

IF you're confused by the ever-changing rules and regulations as the COVID-19 crisis escalates, spare a thought for taxi driver Chris Parker.

He was first alerted to the true gravity of the situation when he picked up a family two weeks ago at the Coffs Harbour airport wearing masks and surgical gloves.

They were returning from South Africa and went straight into lockdown.

"They had masks and surgical gloves on, and insisted on loading and unloading their own bags and paying by pay wave.

"They sat in the very rear seat (he drives a six-seat Tarago) and when they got out they sprayed the back seat and door handles with disinfectant.

"The woman's mother had left a care package at the front door and they were going into an immediate 14-day lockdown.

Coffs Harbour cab driver Chris Parker.
Coffs Harbour cab driver Chris Parker. Matt Deans

"That really brought it home for me, and made me really aware of what they must have been coming back from.

"They were aware of their responsibility and it was very heartening to see them taking it so seriously."

He has driven taxis in the Coffs Harbour area for 12 years, the last four of these with CHASA (Coffs Harbour And Surrounding Areas).

The company employs 18 drivers with their work slashed by about half, since the crisis really started to escalate just over a week ago.

"Last Saturday I drove the night shift from 3pm to 12.30am and got 10 jobs. Normally I would do up to 30."

Drivers have reduced hours and many, including Chris, have applied for the wage subsidies currently on offer as part of the Federal Government's relief package.

"We intend to keep going for as long as we possibly can - we've got to look after our wheelchair patients and get them to hospital and doctors appointments. That's one of the primary objectives of staying on board.

"It's a matter of suck it and see."

He is still getting a lot of work out of the Coffs Harbour Health Campus.

"Doctors and medical officers going back to Sydney need to get to the airport. A lot of people discharged from hospital need to get home.

"There's also a lot of people around Park Beach and Toormina who don't have their own vehicles but they still need to go shopping."

Being classified an essential service Chris and others like him face heightened risk of infection.

"Scared is not a word I would use, it's more cautious."

Moving forward he is calling on all levels of government to provide greater clarity on the rules and regulations.

"I feel we're getting mixed messages. Instructions are changing daily - well they're actually changing hourly.

"I can't operate my taxi with this confusion going on - we need a clear direction from government and health authorities as to what specific rules apply to taxis. We hear about public transport but not specifically about taxis.

"There is a lot of confusion with the law being you have to be 1.5 metres apart, yet because the government gazette states public transport is exempt I assume this applies to us.

"I walked past the hairdresser the other day and they're still open, cutting hair so they're still touching people."