France lets some UK cargo, people in; huge backlog remains

CALAIS, FRANCE (AP) — Freight from Britain and passengers with a negative virus test began arriving on French shores yesterday, after France relaxed a two-day blockade over a new virus variant that had isolated the United Kingdom (UK), stranded thousands of truck drivers and raised fears of food shortages.

Associated Press (AP) reporters saw a ferry from Britain pulling into the French port of Calais before dawn, and trains carrying freight and car passengers were allowed to cross into the continent beneath the English Channel again.

People arriving from Britain are required to have a virus test capable of detecting the new variant, according to a late-night agreement reached after 48 hours of frenzied negotiations among French, British and European Union (EU) authorities. European nations and others around the world began slamming borders shut to Britain on Sunday, a day after the UK Prime Minister announced that the new variant was mostly responsible for a surge in new infections in London and southern England and imposed tight new lockdown restrictions.

The company that runs the Eurotunnel said yesterday that truck drivers lined up on the highway leading to the English port of Dover are being tested for the virus, but that it may take some time to for traffic to resume as normal after the massive backup.

On the English side of the Channel, soldiers and the UK’s official test-and-trace workers were being deployed for the mass testing programme to ease the backlog of trucks. A negative test result taken less than 72 hours before the journey is required for anyone entering France from Britain.

Calais is a major conduit for trade and travel between Britain and the continent, and France had argued that the blockade was necessary to work out safety measures to protect European citizens.

Trucks are parked on the M20 motorway as part of Operation Stack, while the Port of Dover remains closed, in southern England near the Channel Tunnel and Dover yesterday. PHOTO: AP