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Dublin: 8°C Wednesday 24 February 2021

Thousands of lorry drivers could spend Christmas in Kent traffic backlog

Drivers coming from the UK need to be tested to be allowed into France – causing huge delays despite the borders being opened.

A man conducts a Covid-19 test on a driver at the Port of Dover.
A man conducts a Covid-19 test on a driver at the Port of Dover.
Image: PA

FERRIES WILL RUN on Christmas Day and French firemen are in the UK to help test drivers for coronavirus as thousands of lorry drivers wanting to cross the Channel remain stranded in the Port of Dover, Kent.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said ferries from Dover to Calais would run on Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day as French firefighting teams and the British military work with NHS Test and Trace to continue testing the thousands of hauliers parked waiting to make the crossing.

Drivers coming from the UK must return a negative coronavirus result carried out within the past 72 hours before making the crossing to France.

The head of the Road Haulage Association has accused France of treating drivers like “pawns in a larger game” as the UK stands on the cusp of brokering a deal with the EU – an allegation the French have repeatedly denied.

Richard Burnett sympathised with the hauliers, a small number of whom clashed with police this week after being stopped from heading to the continent, adding: “It just feels like it’s a lever the French have pulled specifically around the Brexit negotiations.”

He told the BBC: “We understand that we don’t want the virus to spread but I think we have to think practically about some of the reasons why this has happened.”

Burnett added he was “relieved” hauliers would be able to move after French authorities demanded a negative test following the emergence of a new more transmissible coronavirus strain in the UK, but added it would “take some time” to clear the backlog.

It’s taking an hour per driver to carry out a test, which is longer than they had expected.

He added lorry drivers’ rates of coronavirus infection are much lower than those of workers in other sectors, at between 3% and 6%.

coronavirus-wed-dec-23-2020 Source: PA

Shapps said France and the UK had agreed to keep the border open at Dover, the Eurotunnel and Calais “throughout Christmas” to get citizens and hauliers cleared “as soon as possible”.

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He promised ferries will sail on Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day, as 26 French firemen brought 10,000 extra tests to the port today to help speed up the process.

France’s ambassador to the UK Catherine Colonna added that the two countries were “neighbours, partners, allies and (yes) friends”.

A disused airfield at Manston has become the main testing centre for hauliers, with drivers required to self-administer swabs in their cabs under supervision.

Trucks began entering the Eurotunnel again yesterday after drivers started producing negative Covid-19 results, but it is feared it could take days to carry out all the tests.

Around 170 military personnel, including from 36 Engineer Regiment and the Irish Guards, are assisting with testing.

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