COVID-19: UK and France aim to restart freight as queues grow

Lorry drivers in Kent have spent a second night sleeping in their vehicles waiting for the border with France to reopen – as politicians thrash out a plan to restart trade and travel.

France shut the border for 48 hours on Sunday over the UK’s new virus variant.

The government said 945 lorries were stacked up near Dover on Monday night – but the number now seems to be much higher, said BBC reporter Simon Jones.

More than 40 countries have now banned UK arrivals.

Almost every EU member state has now stopped travel from the UK amid fears over the virus mutation, and the EU is talking about how to form a united response.

The UK’s top scientist Sir Patrick Vallance has warned the new variant is now “everywhere” in the country – and more areas may need to enter tier four to curb its spread.

He predicted there would be a spike in cases after Christmas, and restrictions might “need to be increased in some places”.

Dozens of countries, including Spain, France and India, have banned UK flights after parts of England, including London, entered tough tier four – “stay at home” – restrictions.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said discussions were under way between the UK and France “to find a resolution” to France’s border closure.

“You’ll hear later on today in terms of developments and updates,” she told BBC Breakfast.

France’s Europe minister Clément Beaune said any plans will be agreed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron and come into effect from Wednesday.

Ms Patel said potentially testing lorry drivers at ports was “part of the discussions that the transport secretary is having with his counterpart in France right now”, and added: “Getting those tests up and running can happen relatively quickly.”

EU member states are understood to be pressing for UK arrivals to be tested for the virus before entering their countries.

It comes as:

  • Supermarkets seek to reassure shoppers Christmas supplies are plentiful amid reports of bare shelves and long queues
  • Northern Ireland’s Executive votes against introducing a travel ban between NI and England, Scotland and Wales
  • Royal Mail said it has temporarily suspended all mail services to Europe, with the exception of the Republic of Ireland, due to travel restrictions.

The border disruption also affected passenger services – with many air, rail and sea services cancelled between the UK and France, as well as other countries that have put restrictions in place.

Rail operator Eurotunnel said it hoped passengers would be able to travel between the UK and France from Wednesday or Thursday, if a solution is agreed.

British Airways said it would operate “a reduced and dynamic schedule” amid the uncertainty.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said there was “zero evidence at this point” that the new variant of coronavirus discovered in the UK causes “any increase in severity associated with” Covid-19.

It urged the public to continue with measures known to reduce the spread: hand washing, social distancing, and wearing face coverings.

– BBC

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