BRUSSELS / LONDON (Reuters) – France will reopen its borders to passengers from England on Wednesday, ending a blockade meant to stop the spread of a new variant of the coronavirus, but which has blocked thousands of trucks before Christmas.
Much of the world has closed its borders to Britain after the discovery of a much more transmissible mutated coronavirus variant spreading rapidly in southern England.
With lines of trucks snaking on the horizon in England and supermarket shelves stripped just days before Christmas, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson rushed to get French President Emmanuel Macron to lift the freight ban in from Great Britain.
Late on Tuesday, an agreement was reached with Paris to allow French and other EU residents to return home, provided they have a negative COVID test dating back less than 72 hours.
Britain said it would start distributing tests to multiple locations on Wednesday, but warned the process will take time.
“We will make sure that tomorrow we provide testing,” Shapps said. “It will take two or three days for things to be sorted out. “
Truckers have been told not to go to the Kent region, where the most used rail and ferry links are.
Previously, the European Commission had said non-essential travel to and from Britain should be discouraged, but said people returning home should be allowed to do so, provided they undergo a test COVID-19 or quarantine for 10 days.
However, border controls are governed by national policy, so each EU country can have its own rules.
Shapps said France has accepted the results of “side-flow” COVID tests that have been used in other mass testing programs. They usually give results within an hour.
The discovery of the new variant, just months before vaccines were 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.
Scientists say there is no evidence that vaccines currently being deployed in Britain – made 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 effective quarantine of COVID-19 in the UK came just nine days before separating from the EU after a period of transition – seen as one of the biggest changes in post-British history -Second World War.
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.
An exception was the United States, which does not intend to impose COVID-19 checks on British passengers.
Cases of the new strain have also been detected in some other countries, including Denmark and Italy. Experts said the prevalence in Britain could be due to better detection.
The UK border crisis led to panic buying: shoppers stripped the shelves of some supermarkets of turkeys, rolls of 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. Tesco said it has placed temporary purchase limits on some essential products.
Britain said 632 trucks were stacked on the M20 motorway in Kent, southern England, and 2,188 at nearby Manston Airport, now in use as a giant truck fleet. The government said additional toilets and food vendors were being fitted, after the Road Transport Association raised concerns over the welfare of drivers.
While trucks could still pass from France to Britain, they could not return, so European truck drivers were extremely reluctant to travel.
The closing of the borders was causing headaches across Europe, especially for those trying to transport perishable goods. Milk suppliers were already trying to increase milk stocks in Britain before Brexit.
“The plan was to stock up in the next 10 days, so if there is a Brexit problem, there are stocks for January,” said Alexander Anton, the secretary general of the European Dairy Association. “Now you can’t find a transport company to send a driver to UK.”
Lactalis, the world’s largest dairy company, has had to postpone some truck deliveries to Britain due to the border closure, a spokesperson for the French group said.
Television footage showed a small group of people arguing with police at the entrance to the port of Dover.
Elsewhere, drivers, some swearing for Johnson and Macron, said they just wanted to get home in time for Christmas.