LONDON – Thousands of truck drivers stranded in Britain received a glimmer of hope on Wednesday that they could be home for Christmas after European officials eased travel restrictions imposed in response to a mutant coronavirus strain.
The British army has been called in to help lift the blockade caused by convoys of trucks meandering on roads near Dover, the main ferry port for France and the mainland.
“We are developing the infrastructure. So it will be the armed forces [Covid testing] primarily to help us establish this and to go through some of the arrears you have seen, “Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News.
Paris and London agreed late Tuesday that drivers with negative results for Covid-19 could board ferries to France. The decision came after much of the world closed its borders to Britain to contain the new mutation.
The road transport association estimated that there were up to 10,000 trucks saved near the port.
The new Covid variant is apparently so infectious that it has led Prime Minister Boris Johnson to effectively cancel Christmas for millions.
The discovery of the variant, which could be 70% more transmissible than the original, in places such as Denmark, Belgium, Italy and Australia, just a few months before vaccines became widely available, sowed a new wave of fear across the country. world.
In Dover, frustrations erupted on Wednesday, while several angry drivers briefly clashed with police. Many drivers honked their horns in unison and turned on their frustrated lights.
Although officials gave the green light to the trucks to travel, Raluca Marian of the International Road Transport Union, a global road transport body, told the BBC that the logistics of the mass test would be “a disaster”.
Marian warned that 30-minute tests for thousands of drivers may not see the clear lines until New Year’s Eve.
“We are happy that we finally have an agreement, that the borders are open, but at the same time this testing is a big challenge for us and we do not think it will work – the arrears cannot be eliminated,” she said. .
A kind gesture, in the form of a curry, eased the wait for some.
Members of the Sikh International Relief Organization in the United Kingdom, Khalsa Aid, handed drivers bottles of water, snacks and 800 hot dishes of rice and chickpea curry, they said on Twitter, winning public praise in the goodwill season.
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The chaos at the border comes just days before Britain finally leaves the European Union on December 31, with both sides still concluding an 11-hour trade deal.
Panic buying was underway in some supermarkets in London’s capital, which is under the strictest blockade measures in England, while Brexit is expected to cause further disruption in January, when a full customs border will enter into force.
On Tuesday, the European Commission said it would be easier to ban general travel from the UK, and people heading home should be allowed to do so. However, border controls are governed by national policy, so that each EU country can set its own rules.
Reuters contributed to the report.
Matthew Mulligan contributed.