DOVER, England (Reuters) – The UK was stuck in COVID-19 isolation on Tuesday after much of the world cut travel links due to a highly contagious new strain of coronavirus, halting the ‘one of Europe’s most important trade routes just days before Brexit on the cliff edge.
With lines of trucks snaking on the horizon in England and supermarket shelves stripped days before Christmas, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson rushed to get French President Emmanuel Macron to lift the ban on freight from from Great Britain.
Johnson and his advisers said the mutated variant of the new coronavirus, which could be up to 70% more transmissible, was spreading rapidly but was identified because British scientists were so good at genomic surveillance.
The BBC quoted French Europe Minister Clément Beaune as saying that Britain and France would announce a deal to restart freight by Wednesday.
“We are constantly talking to our colleagues in France on a range of issues and this work has been going on for the past 24 hours and we will continue today,” UK Home Secretary Priti Patel told Sky News. “We will see what happens today.”
When asked if there would be a deal on Tuesday, Patel said, “We are working to get a resolution. It is in our interest to ensure fluidity. “
One option is to deploy COVID-19 mass tests for truck drivers, although such tests typically take 24 to 48 hours to get a result, so it was not immediately clear how fast the trucks could move. again at Christmas.
Johnson spoke to Macron on Monday about the lifting of the freight ban, adding that the French leader wanted to move within hours. Patel said details could be announced later on Tuesday.
The discovery of the new strain, just months before vaccines became widely available, sowed a new wave of panic in a pandemic that has killed an estimated 1.7 million people worldwide and more than 67,000 in Grande -Brittany.
The main concern is that the variant is significantly more transmissible than the original strain.
Scientists say there is no evidence that vaccines currently being deployed in the UK – manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech – or other COVID-19 vaccines in development will not protect against this variant, known as line B.1.1.7
The UK is in effective quarantine against COVID-19 just nine days before it separates from the EU after a transition period – considered one of the biggest changes in British history post-World War II.
Countries in Europe and elsewhere have suspended travel from Britain since the weekend. Germany has imposed a ban on British travelers from Tuesday, which could remain in effect until January 6.
Cases of the new strain have also been detected in some other countries, including Denmark and Italy. Experts said the prevalence found in Britain could be due to better detection.
The British border crisis has led to panic buying in the country: shoppers stripped the shelves of some supermarkets of turkey, toilet paper, bread and vegetables.
While the government said there was enough food for Christmas, market leader Tesco and No.2 Sainsbury’s both said food supplies would be affected if the disruption continued.
Supermarkets are looking to source more from Britain and seek alternative modes of transport for products from Europe, including using ferries directly from Spain and increasing stock from the Netherlands.
“WELCOME THESE PEOPLE AT HOME”
Patel said 650 trucks were stacked on the M20 in Kent, southern England, and 873 at nearby Manston Airport.
“The truck drivers are a very good bunch, resilient and self-sufficient,” Port of Dover CEO Doug Bannister told Times Radio, adding that something should be done to bring these “really heroic guys home for their vacation. of Christmas”.
Although trucks can still go from France to Britain, they cannot return, so European truck drivers are extremely reluctant to travel.
As the sun rose, hundreds of stranded drivers waiting to be cleared across France via the ferry or the Channel Tunnel brewed tea and coffee after a night spent on the M20 motorway.
The drivers said they just wanted to get home in time for Christmas.
“My chances of coming home for Christmas are diminishing. It’s stupid and I’m nervous and unhappy about it, “Stanislaw Olbrich, a 55-year-old Polish truck driver stranded 40 km north of Dover, told Reuters.