The U.K.’s main trucking gateway to the European Union remained backed up for a fifth day, despite progress moving traffic through the Port of Dover.
Thousands of truckers werestuck in logjams around Britain’s busiest ferry port on Christmas Eve, separated from families, many as far away as Poland. Some 4,000 trucks alone were crowded onto the site of Manston Airport, a disused airfield in Kent being used to conduct Covid-19 testing required before they can board ferries to Calais, France.
Only 100 trucks made it across overnight, a spokesman for the port said. The facility remained “very congested,” with progress slowed partly to ensure full ferry sailings.
Some 170 military personnel tested hauliers overight, enabling their journeys to continue into Europe, the the U.K. Ministry of Defence said. They were aided by French firemen who brought over 10,000 Covid-19 tests. France reopened its borders on Wednesday after a two-day blockade, on the condition that drivers have proof of a negative test.
“We have information from Polish drivers who managed to drive through the Channel Tunnel and enter France,” the Polish Embassy tweeted. “Successive drivers are tested and queue up for the crossing. There is progress at the border.”
Ferries will continue to sail on Christmas and Boxing Day to help clear the backlog, U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shappssaid on Twitter.
However, the U.K.’sRoad Haulage Association said it was awaiting clarity from the French government on whether trucks would be allowed to keep working once they reach Calais — they are not usually allowed to move on roads on Sundays and holidays such as Christmas.
Many drivers, some stranded since Saturday, risk spending Christmas parked by the side of an English road. Sikh humanitarian group Khalsa Aid is set to return to the congested M20 today to distribute 2,500 Domino’s pizzas among them.
Covid-19 testing firms said they’d been contacted about helping with the effort to process truckers waiting to cross the Channel, but were struggling to provide any assistance given surging demand at their main business at airports.
“This may take out capacity in other testing locations,” Denis Kinane, chief medical officer at the ExpressTest division of Cignpost Diagnostics, said in an email. “Our testing facilities at Gatwick and Heathrow have been inundated by the number of people who want a test in a very tight time frame.”
Collinson Group, which provides a range of coronavirus tests for travelers at Heathrow, Luton, Stansted, London City, Manchester and East Midlands airports, said it had provided advice on how to implement and streamline screening, but hadn’t been able to directly participate.
“The government had to bring in the military because its a massive challenge,” Scott Sunderman, Collinson’s managing director for medical and security assistance, said in an interview. “You need to deploy large numbers of well trained people very quickly.”
Sunderman said Collinson is already grappling with a rapidly changing requirements at airports, withVirgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. introducing testing for flights to the U.S. today and Spain last week changing rules for visiting the Canary Island “overnight.” He said the company is braced for a jump in bookings from people flying to France who need to comply with the new rules.
Supermarkets said they aren’t worried about food shortages on Christmas Day but there will likely be shortages next week, especially of products from Spain, transported by road, such as citrus fruits, salad ingredients and some field vegetables which are expensive to send by air freight, said Clive Black, a retail analyst at Shore Capital Ltd.
Trucks that are meant to be in Europe on Christmas Day and Boxing Day collecting new loads of fresh produce to bring back to the U.K. remain stuck in Kent, he said.
“A single lorry can carry about 30 to 40 tonnes of product,” he said. “You can see how if trucks don’t start moving quickly, and if Dover is not operating fluidly, we could absolutely have more empty shelves than has been suggested so far between Christmas and New Year and beyond.”
— With assistance by Siddharth Vikram Philip
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