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School bus cancellations are piling up in Ontario, with transportation providers saying fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic are compounding an existing bus driver shortage across the industry.

Twelve bus routes were cancelled in both the Grey-Bruce and Thunder Bay regions as of Wednesday, with providers citing the pandemic and related health concerns as reasons for keeping drivers off the job.

In Sudbury, the student services consortium announced Monday that 23 routes will not run for at least the first week of school because not enough drivers returned to work.

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Student Transportation Services of Thunder Bay says the average age of a bus driver in the area is 57 and many have decided to remain off the job because of age-related health risks from COVID-19.

The cancellations come weeks after concerns were raised by Unifor Local 4268, the union representing bus drivers, asking for better health and safety guidance for the industry.

Busing has posed challenges as classes resume across the country, with concerns raised about physical distancing on packed routes and drivers on strike in Winnipeg this week.

Dr. Theresa Tam says rising COVID-19 case counts in several parts of the country understandably worry parents who are sending their children back to school this month. She says keeping distant, wearing masks and washing hands is vital not only among students and their families, but for everyone who wants to keep schools from suffering outbreaks. The Canadian Press

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