A firefighter swabs a lorry driver to test for Covid-19 on December 24, 2020 in Dover, United Kingdom. Travel from the UK to France is gradually resuming after being suspended due to concerns about a new strain of COVID-19. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Britain is sending 800 new military personnel to its border with France to help test thousands of stranded truck drivers for coronavirus.
French President Emmanuel Macron shut down the French border with the UK on Sunday amid Britain’s outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus.
The border reopened Tuesday, but anyone crossing must have a negative coronavirus test.
With thousands requiring testing, the British Army, French firefighters, and Polish soldiers are all assisting in efforts to break the logjam.
Out of almost 2,400 tests for truck drivers, only three have come back positive, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Christmas Eve.
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Britain is sending almost 800 military personnel to its border with France in an attempt to clear a huge backlog of truck drivers attempting to leave the country amid the UK’s rapidly spreading outbreak of a new coronavirus variant.
Thousands of trucks and their drivers are stranded in Kent after French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday banned all UK travellers – including hauliers transporting goods – from entering France.
The ban effectively shut down the English Channel crossing to France, led to a rapid build up of heavy goods vehicles in and around the port of Dover, and resulted in long queues of lorries on England’s M20 highway. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also turned an airfield in Kent into a temporary parking lot for the thousands of trucks.
After talks with Johnson, Macron eased the ban on Tuesday, opening the border to anyone with a recent negative COVID-19 test, but with thousands of drivers stuck and more arriving each day, testing them all is a substantial challenge.
As a result, Britain’s transport secretary, Grant Shapps, confirmed that on Christmas Day some 800 personnel from British armed forces will be sent to assist testing efforts. According to the BBC, around 300 personnel were already in place, meaning a total of 1,100 have now been drafted in to help.
Thousands of trucks are stranded near Britain’s border crossing with France. Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images
Secretary Shapps said he has given “special instructions to the Army to take control of testing and HGV management operations,” Sky News reports.
“Our aim is to get foreign hauliers home with their families as quickly as we can,” he added, according to the BBC. “I know it’s been hard for many drivers cooped up in their cabs at this precious time of year, but I assure them that we are doing our utmost to get them home.”
Members of the French fire services, known as Sapeurs Pompiers, are also helping with testing efforts, while the Polish defense minister said that he is sending a team of territorial army soldiers to help out. A large number of the drivers stranded in Kent are from Poland.
Shapps said on Thursday that 2,367 truck drivers have so far been tested at the border, and only three have tested positive for the virus.
The area around the UK’s border crossing has seen fraught scenes this week, and on Wednesday, a handful of HGV drivers clashed with police. Volunteers from the Salvation Army, a charity usually focused on homelessness and disaster relief, were even drafted in to help feed stranded drivers.
The Channel crossing is perhaps the most important route for the UK and the EU’s trading relationship, accounting for a total of almost 138 billion euros ($168 billion) worth of trade, according to a 2018 report from EY.
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