Britain welcomes French easing of transport ban but warns against travel to port
LONDON — The British government on Tuesday welcomed a French decision to ease restrictions on travelers from Britain after a snap 48-hour ban to curb the spread of coronavirus threatened UK supply chains.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote on social media that “good progress and agreement” had been made with France on borders but urged lorry drivers not to head to the southern county of Kent in expectations of boarding a ferry or train.
French Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebarri confirmed that air travel, boats, and Eurostar trains would “resume service as of tomorrow morning.”
“French nationals, people living in France, and those with a legitimate reason will have to be carrying a negative test,” he said.
Despite the breakthrough in talks, congestion around the key southern port of Dover remains unlikely to recede in the short term.
The measures imposed on haulers on Sunday to stop the spread of a new variant of the coronavirus caused concern over shortages of some fresh food products over a Christmas period already marred by strict coronavirus restrictions.
The crisis piled pressure on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government as London struggles to finalize a post-Brexit trade agreement with Brussels before a December 31 deadline.
With hundreds of lorry drivers stranded in the south of England, the European Union called on its members to facilitate transit and to lift other transport bans to avoid supply chain disruptions.
In a statement to the press, the French Ministry of Transport said all travelers from Britain would be required to present a negative Covid test to their airline, ship, or railway company less than 72 hours before departure.
French nationals, EU nationals, or French residents who need to complete essential travel will be allowed to cross the border.
Britain had pushed tests for drivers as part of its solution to the impasse. More than 2,800 lorries are stranded in the southern English county of Kent, unable to make the crossing to France, with drivers having spent a second night sleeping in their cabs.
As night fell on Tuesday, drivers of some 800 trucks parked at a nearby disused airport sounded their horns for more than half an hour in protest.
Rod McKenzie, managing director of the Road Haulage Association, said many of the drivers stranded across Kent are Europeans, trying to get home for Christmas.
“Yesterday Kent County Council offered each of them one cereal bar, which is a pretty poor effort, I think in terms of maintaining their morale, and their spirits,” McKenzie told the BBC.
“We are not treating lorry drivers well in these very difficult conditions that they are in at the moment.”
Andrew Opie of the British Retail Consortium called for the borders to be opened from Wednesday.
“There is a problem potentially directly after Christmas and that is really in fresh produce, so we’re talking here about things like salad, vegetables, fresh fruit, of which the vast majority come from Europe at this time,” he told the BBC.
Johnson, criticized for his management of a pandemic that has caused nearly 68,000 deaths, one of the highest death tolls in Europe, has argued that the risk of transmission by lorry drivers was “really very low.”
According to the World Health Organization, the transmission of this new variant is 40 to 70 percent higher.
British scientists advising the government also observed a higher transmission in children compared with other strains, and are working on this hypothesis to explain its fast spread.
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