Goods and passengers from the UK began arriving on French shores on Wednesday after a two-day blockade was introduced due to a new variant of coronavirus that had isolated the UK and raised fears of food shortages. But officials warned that the delay would take days to complete.
A deal was struck the day before that would allow truck drivers and travelers with a negative virus test to cross the canal to France brought some relief, but many warned that the chaos was a precursor to what Britain could face if it did not reach a trade agreement with the European Union before leaving the bloc’s economic embrace on 31 December.
UNITED KINGDOM IN THE UNITED KINGDOM IS MORE THAN 1,500 FRANCE-BORDED TRANSPORTS GOVERNED BY GOVERNMENTS TO RECOVER THE BORDER
Associated Press reporters saw a ferry from Britain pull into the French port of Calais before dawn on Wednesday, and railway operator Eurotunnel said trains carrying freight and car passengers were allowed to cross to the continent under the English Channel again. But the grid remained and mood flared at the port of England in Dover, where stranded truck drivers and travelers were desperate to get home for Christmas. Some truck drivers could be seen with the police.
Nations around the world began blocking people from Britain over the weekend after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that researchers said a new version of the virus that was whipping around London and England’s southeast could be more contagious. The announcement raised concerns at a time when Europe has been refused by rising new viral infections and deaths.
Some European countries eased restrictions on Britain on Wednesday, although many remain in place. Nevertheless, it was France’s embargo that caused the most alarm, as Britain relies heavily on its cross-channel commercial links to the continent for food at this time of year, especially fresh fruit and vegetables.
Fears of food shortages added to an already gloomy rise for Christmas in the UK, where authorities have reduced or suspended plans to ease holiday restrictions as daily viral infections increase and many hospitals approach capacity. Many Britons were already facing disruptions if Britain and the EU could not agree on a new trade agreement when the country leaves the bloc’s duty-free internal market and customs union in just over a week.
French authorities have insisted the blockade was based on scientific concerns and not politics, but some could not help but note that it may have given a glimpse of what Britain can expect next year.
Clement Beaune, France’s European Minister, told BFM-TV during a discussion on the Brexit talks that “when it comes to trade”, the British side is much more dependent on Europe than the other way around.
People arriving from the UK are required to have a virus test that can detect the new variant, according to a late-night agreement reached after 48 hours of frantic negotiations between French, British and EU authorities.
British Secretary of State Robert Jenrick said about 4,000 trucks could wait in Kent County to cross the canal and urged other truck drivers not to go there until the backlog has been cleared. It will take “a few days” to test all drivers before they can travel to France, he said.
“Regardless of the number, whether it’s 4,000 or more, there’s a significant number to work through,” Jenrick said.
Soldiers and contact tracers were dispatched to the area to administer COVID-19 tests. The backlog caused tensions and protests in Dover. A truck driver from Poland complained about the lack of toilets or food in the port.
Ben Richtzenhaim, who drove overnight from Scotland in the hope of reaching Europe by car, got stuck in a huge line despite having tested negative.
“Looking around, it does not really seem like much progress is being made here,” he said. “People are still not moving out of the way and the authorities are not doing anything either. So it’s a real stalemate.”
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The Netherlands, Belgium and Bulgaria eased travel restrictions on Britain on Wednesday, but dozens of other countries continue to block travelers. Japan announced that it will reintroduce an entry ban for most new arrivals from the country.
Eurostars passenger train services were also resumed from the UK to the continent, but only for citizens of Europe’s borderless zone, UK citizens with EU residence permits and those with a special reason to come temporarily, such as lorry drivers.