UK isolation linked to viruses diminishes, but buildup persists

DOVER, England (AP) – An impasse in an English port held thousands of truckers and travelers in custody on Wednesday, despite an agreement with France to lift a two-day blockade imposed because of a new variant of the coronavirus it isolated Britain and the fear of food shortages has increased.

Although some goods and passengers started arriving on the French coasts in the morning, many were still struggling to get through. With authorities warning that the backlog of orders would take days to clear, frustrated truckers fought with the police at Dover harbor. Some have suggested that chaos was a precursor to what Britain can face if it does not reach a trade agreement with the European Union before leaving the bloc’s economic embrace on December 31.

“Looking around, it really doesn’t seem like much progress is being made here,” said Ben Richtzenhaim, a financial services worker who drove through Scotland overnight hoping to drive home in Germany. “People are still not getting out of the way and the authorities are also not doing anything. So it’s a real stalemate. “

Nations around the world began barring people from Britain over the weekend after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that scientists said a new version of the virus that strikes London and southeastern England could be more contagious. The announcement heightened anxiety at a time when Europe was hit by new infections and virus deaths.

On Wednesday, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said another new variant – from South Africa – appeared in Britain and announced restrictions on African travel.

Some European countries relaxed their travel limits in Britain on Wednesday, although many remain there. Still, it was France’s freight ban that caused the most alarm and led to a feeling of intense isolation in the island nation, as the UK relies heavily on its trade links across the English Channel to the mainland for food at this time. of the year, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.

Fear of food scarcity adds to the already taciturn preparation for Christmas in Britain, where authorities have reduced or canceled plans to relax holiday restrictions, as daily virus infections increase and many hospitals are almost full.

Britain reported another 744 deaths and a record 39,237 confirmed cases on Wednesday, and the health secretary said millions more people in England would be under the country’s most severe restrictions as of December 26. The rules, which close all non-essential stores and prohibit families from mixing in the home, already cover London and the surrounding area.

Under an agreement to lift France’s ban, anyone arriving from Britain must have a virus test capable of detecting the new variant, and soldiers and contact trackers have been sent to the port of Dover to administer the tests. But drivers said the chaos of traffic in the area was delaying this.

Railway operator Eurotunnel said some trains carrying cargo and passenger cars were allowed to cross into the continent under the English Channel on Wednesday. The director of the French port of Calais-Boulogne, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, said that so far two cargo vans have arrived by ferry, while some truckers simply loaded their goods directly onto the ferries so that a colleague could pick them up on the French side.

He said that no cargo trucks made the trip yet because of testing problems, and he didn’t expect any until the night. The port of Calais normally handles up to 4,000 trucks per day.

British Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said it would take “a few days” to test all drivers who are currently in Kent County.

By late Wednesday afternoon, it was estimated that more than 6,000 trucks were trying to cross the English Channel, with more than half – about 3,750 – crumpled at Manston Airport, abandoned in Kent, waiting for the cue to leave. . Test facilities were installed at the airport.

The chaos came because many Britons were already preparing for travel and trade-related disruptions, if the UK and the European Union do not reach a post-Brexit trade deal by the time the country leaves the tariff-free single market. EU union at the end of the year.

French officials insisted that this week’s blockade was based on scientific rather than political concerns, but some noted that it may have given an idea of ​​what Britain can expect next year.

“We thought we were doing well, preparing for December 31 (and Brexit), and then kaboom, we are already in chaos,” Puissesseau, the director of the French port, told the Associated Press. The slowdown could be worse when Brexit kicks in and French authorities have to check customs documents and virus tests, he warned.

Clement Beaune, France’s European Affairs Minister, told BFM television during a discussion of the Brexit negotiations that, when it comes to trade, “the British side depends much more on Europe than the other way around.”

The Netherlands, Belgium and Bulgaria relaxed travel restrictions to Britain on Wednesday, but dozens of other countries continue to bar travelers. Japan has announced that it will reinstate the entry ban on most of the country’s newcomers.

Eurostar passenger train services have also been resumed from Britain to the mainland, but only for citizens of Europe’s borderless zone, British citizens residing in the EU and those with a special reason to come temporarily, as truck drivers.

Liza Peirrusio, an Italian who lives in London, traveled to Paris on Wednesday to spend the holidays with her boyfriend.

“I’ve never been happier to be a European citizen,” she said as she stepped down from the first Eurostar to arrive since the weekend.


Hui reported from London and Charlton from Paris. Associated Press journalists Jeff Schaeffer in Calais, France, Nicolas Garriga in Paris, Jason Parkinson in Dover, England, Pan Pylas in London and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed.


An earlier version of this story corrected the French port director’s first name for Jean-Marc, not Jean-March.


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