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Lorries to travel through Channel Tunnel after drivers test negative for COVID-19

Written by on 23 December 2020

About 50 lorries are set to travel through the Channel Tunnel to France after their drivers tested negative for coronavirus.

The development follows further scuffles in Dover on Wednesday afternoon, as drivers stranded at the Kent port clashed with police – one man lying down in front of a truck.

Around 5,000 lorries have been stuck after France stopped them crossing because of the new variant of coronavirus in the UK.

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Drivers are angry at possibly losing their place in line to get a test
Police removed a man lying on the road in front of a lorry
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Police removed a man lying on the road in front of a lorry

In a 6pm update on Wednesday, the Department for Transport (DfT) said the port of Dover would be clear later in the evening, after which the first ferries would leave.

  • There are two mobile COVID-19 testing sites at Manston airfield, the department added
  • A further two can be found at Operation Stack, and one at Jubilee Way in Dover
  • Five more are said to be arriving soon
  • Hundreds of lateral flow tests have been used at Manston airfield and on the M20, the DfT said
  • About 170 military personnel are on the ground
  • The message to hauliers remains not to travel to Kent
  • Guidance is being issued in multiple languages

Lorries have been lined up on the M20 motorway and at Manston airfield after the French government took action on Sunday night.

A group of drivers began heckling police just after 8am, before a few started pushing officers in an apparent attempt to break through their lines.

Sky’s Mark White, in Dover, said there had been minor “sporadic scuffles” throughout the morning, with one man later lying in front of a lorry and others beeping their horns in protest.

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UK and French governments reached a deal to reopen the border from today – but lorry drivers must test negative for coronavirus before they can travel.

Around 3,800 lorries are at Manston, just north of Dover
Image:
Around 3,800 lorries are at Manston, just north of Dover

Latest coronavirus updates from the UK and around the world

The drivers have been protesting about what they say is a lack of facilities – such as toilets or food, as well as potentially losing their place in line for the ferry by having to go to Manston, the main testing location.

One man was arrested for blocking the highway, Kent Police said, while a police car was damaged during a disturbance at Manston.

The time it will take to clear the huge backlog is unclear.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has put it at “two or three days”, but tweeted on Wednesday that “severe delays” were likely to continue and urged people to avoid the area.

Just over 5,000 lorries have been waiting, according to the DfT. That comprises 3,800 at Manston airfield, 15 miles north of Dover, and more than 1,200 on the motorway.

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Drivers: ‘No testing and no toilets’

But the Road Haulage Association estimates between 8,000 and 10,000 are stuck in Kent and surrounding areas.

Sky’s Mark White said there was a real sense of anger among the drivers and that some were attempting to stop any vehicles arriving from France.

“[They] say that if they can’t get in, they’re not letting vehicles out either,” says White.

“They really are incensed by what’s happening and don’t believe government assertions that there is a testing programme under way that would be effective.”

Rail, air and sea services to France were all resuming on Wednesday after a deal was done on Tuesday evening, following earlier talks between Boris Johnson and President Emmanuel Macron.

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The lorry driver facing third day stuck on M20

Anyone travelling must show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within the previous 72 hours.

Entry will only be granted to those travelling for urgent reasons, including lorry drivers, French citizens, and British citizens with French residency.

Mr Shapps said the French government had agreed to accept lateral flow tests, which can return results in around 30 minutes, in order to get traffic moving again.

Drivers use a van to shelter from the rain in Dover
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Drivers used a van to shelter from persistent rain in Dover

He said enough tests had been sent to Kent for the number of drivers currently waiting.

Anyone who tests positive will be given a PCR test – which has a higher degree of accuracy – to confirm the result.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News that those returning a second positive test would be offered “COVID-secure” hotel accommodation, where they must isolate for 10 days.

UK supermarkets have warned of shortages of some fresh fruit and vegetables if the disruption continues.

The deal with France will be reviewed on 31 December, but could run until 6 January.

Many drivers blame France for the chaos
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Many drivers are angry at France for the disruption

France had denied the lorry drivers entry over concerns the variant identified in the UK could spread to the country.

The new variant spreads more easily and is believed to be up to 70% more transmissible.

Dozens of countries have imposed restrictions on travellers from the UK since Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last weekend that it had taken a foothold in southeast England.

Experts say cases have also been identified in other areas of the country.