Incredible scenes of thousands of truck drivers stranded for kilometres has captured the chaos in England after European borders closed trade routes over concerns about the highly infectious new Covid strain sweeping through the UK.
It’s estimated more than 2,800 trucks have been stranded in the southern English county of Kent heading towards the port town of Dover, while about 800 trucks have been parked at a nearby former airport at Manston
France and several other countries closed their borders to Britain on Monday (local time) leaving Prime Minister Boris Johnson scrambling to get French President Emmanuel Macron to lift the ban on freight from Britain.
Truck drivers stranded for Christmas
Paris and London agreed late Tuesday (local time) that drivers carrying a negative test result could board transport for Calais in France from Wednesday (local time), however severe delays are expected to take a “few days” to clear, UK Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said.
Britain has begun testing drivers but there were brief scuffles between a small number of police officers and drivers confused over how to get a coronavirus test, fearing they will spend Christmas sleeping in their trucks.
TV footage showed drivers honking their horns and flashing lights in unison in protest, emergency crews were called in to hand out water and supplied to those stuck in the lengthy queues.
Police said there had been disturbances in Dover and Manston "involving individuals hoping to cross the Channel" and one arrest had been made.
"Testing has begun as we look to get traffic moving again between the UK and France," Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.
"However, French border police are only acting on agreement from this morning (Wednesday, local time) and severe delays continue."
Officials have warned truck drivers not to come to Kent, in England's southeast, despite the border reopening, and stressed none should travel to Dover or the Channel Tunnel site without first being tested for Covid-19.
"I urge truckers not to present themselves yet at the embarkation point in Kent in order to avoid clogging up the system, which is now being made operational again," France's transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said.
Truck drivers will initially take a rapid lateral flow test with anyone who records a positive result required to take a more comprehensive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which takes longer to secure a result.
Tesco and Sainsbury's, Britain's two biggest supermarket groups, warned that gaps would start to appear on shelves within days if freight deliveries were not quickly restored.
New coronavirus strain ‘more transmissible’
The discovery of the new strain, just months before vaccines are expected to be widely available, sowed a fresh wave of panic in a pandemic that has killed about 1.7 million people worldwide and more than 67,000 in Britain.
The main worry is that the variant is significantly more transmissible than the original strain. It has 23 mutations in its genetic code – a relatively high number of changes.
“It’s more transmissible, we’ve absolutely got to make sure we’ve got the right level of restrictions in place,” the UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said earlier this week.
Scientists say there's no evidence that vaccines currently being deployed in the UK or other COVID-19 shots in development will not protect against the variant, however at least four drug companies say they expect their Covid-19 vaccines to be effective against the new virus.
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