LONDON – Hundreds of blocked truck drivers hoped to get the green light to leave the UK on Tuesday as the country woke up increasingly isolated and its bottled trade disrupted by neighbors fearing a new strain of circulating coronavirus in England.
More than 1,500 trucks meandered along a major highway in the south-east of England near the English Channel’s vital ports or crowded into an unused airport on Day 2 of an ordeal that began when dozens nations banned flights from the UK and France banned the entry of its trucks for a first 48 hours until Tuesday night.
The precautions were determined by a new variant of the virus that is thought to be more contagious, although experts say it does not appear to be more deadly or more resistant to vaccines.
On an island nation that relies heavily on its trade ties with the mainland, travel restrictions have raised fears of food shortages over Christmas.
The UK is already facing deep uncertainty over its final exit from the European Union in less than two weeks. The country has not yet concluded a post-Brexit trade agreement with the EU.
For the drivers, it was a gloomy day, some complained about the lack of toilets and food.
“My family is waiting for me, my children, my daughter, my son, my wife,” said Greg Mazurek of Poland. “It had to be a very fast trip, maximum three to four days. I spent 10 minutes in the UK at the gas station and 20 minutes unloading, and now I have to wait two days here in the port of Dover. ”
The drivers hoped that the ordeal would end in a few hours. The outlook improved on Tuesday, when the EU executive arm recommended lifting the bans.
The European Commission has said that people returning to their countries of origin should be able to do so, provided they test negative for the virus or quarantine. He said “freight flows must continue uninterrupted.”
Discussions continued between the UK and France, with any solution likely to focus on testing for virus drivers.
With about 10,000 trucks passing through Dover every day, accounting for about 20% of the country’s trade in goods, retailers are becoming increasingly concerned.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, warned of potential shortcomings in fresh vegetables and fruits after Christmas if borders do not “operate fairly freely” by Wednesday.
The problem, he explained, is that empty trucks stationed in England cannot reach the mainland to pick up deliveries for Britain.
“They have to go back to places like Spain to pick up the next batch of raspberries and strawberries and they have to come back the next day, otherwise we will see interruptions,” he said.
The virus is responsible for 1.7 million deaths worldwide, including about 68,000 in the UK, the second largest number of deaths in Europe, behind the 69,000 people in Italy.
Over the weekend, Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed strict blockade measures in London and surrounding areas amid growing concerns about the new strain, of which the first indications could be 70% more transmissible.
Johnson gave up a planned relaxation of the Christmas rules for millions of people and banned the internal mixing of households. Only essential trips will be allowed.
Asked if the vaccines now launched will work against the new strain, Ugur Sahin, chief executive of BioNTech – the German pharmaceutical company behind the Pfizer-BioNTech shooting – said he was confident it would be effective, but further studies were needed. . to be sure.
Meanwhile, in Switzerland, authorities are trying to track down about 10,000 people who arrived by plane from the UK since December 14 and ordered them to be quarantined for 10 days. Switzerland was one of the 40 countries that banned flights from the UK over the new strain.
The quarantine order is likely to affect thousands of Britons who may have already flocked to Swiss ski resorts. Unlike many of its neighbors, Switzerland has left most of its slopes open, attracting enthusiasts from all over Europe.
Coronavirus | News | USA / World