France announced the reopening on Tuesday evening, ending a 48-hour shutdown imposed in an attempt to prevent a new strain of coronavirus now dominant in parts of southern England from spreading across Europe.
But the UK government’s operation to test truck drivers before departure has not yet started, the Road Haulage Association said, meaning the border was still mostly closed to trucks and other freight vehicles on Wednesday morning.
Rod McKenzie, director of policy at the ORS, said the situation on the ground in Kent was ‘chaotic’, arguing that it was not clear how the flow of vehicles at the border would work or how drivers would pass. the tests and would receive their results.
“We have very, very angry truckers in Dover,” and the news on the ground has been “extremely poor,” he told the BBC.
The sudden closure of French borders to all travelers from the UK had severely disrupted crucial freight routes between the UK and Europe across the Channel by ferry and the Channel Tunnel. The UK government said there was a backlog of around 4,000 trucks in Kent waiting to cross France, but the RHA said Tuesday evening there were between 8,000 and 10,000.
Ferries started arriving in France from Dover in the wee hours of the morning, but carried only a few cars, vans and truck trailers without drivers. “The first trucks to arrive will only be in the early afternoon,” said Jean-Marc Puissesseau, who heads the ports of Calais and Boulogne. The port of Calais said at 11 a.m. local time it had received 20 cars, 30 vans and no trucks.
While around 150 cars crossed overnight, Eurotunnel said no freight had crossed the Channel on its services at 9:30 am in the UK. Eurostar rail links between the UK and France have resumed, while some flights between UK airports and France were scheduled to depart on Wednesday morning.
At the port of Dover, drivers whose trucks were parked at the front of the line for the next ferry said they had not yet been tested. They said they had received little information on when they might be allowed to board and nothing had moved since 6 a.m.
The roads leading to the ports were blocked, with drivers periodically blowing their horns in frustration.
“Nobody knows anything, neither the police, nor the people of the port, nobody,” said a driver, who did not wish to give his name.
Police said there had been “scuffles, but nothing serious” this morning as a dozen drivers demanded clarification on when traffic might start to move.
The British military is being deployed to test truck drivers as part of a large logistics operation from Wednesday morning, but it was not clear when the first drivers tested would reach France. Ministers admit that the backlog of thousands of vehicles will take days to clear up.
The Department for Transport has told the transport industry it expects to be able to test 300 drivers per hour, using the same tests used in the NHS Test and Trace program. Around 30,000 tests are already in place in Kent, 100,000 of which are expected to be delivered in the coming days.
The main test site is at Manston Airport, a disused airfield which is the main waiting area for trucks stranded by the disruption. The site near Ramsgate is already full and drivers parked on the M20 will also be able to get tested.
Drivers able to procure their own tests will be allowed to cross if they carry proof, but it is unclear how they might skip the line of trucks closer to the port.
Only truck drivers, French and European citizens or residents with an essential reason to travel and who may present a negative Covid-19 test result under 72 hours will be authorized to enter France until at least January 6.
France said it would not insist on so-called PCR tests, which require lab analysis and typically take at least a day to return results, but would require the tests to be sensitive to the new variant.
The British Army will test truck drivers across Kent using lateral flow tests, and any driver who tests positive will be offered a PCR test and sent to a secure hotel to isolate if an infection is confirmed .
Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, French Minister for Transport, said any confirmed truck driver detained by Covid-19 would be isolated for 10 days in the UK in accommodation organized by the UK government before being allowed to come to France.
Elizabeth de Jong, Policy Director of the Logistics UK business group, said: ‘It is now vital that Covid-19 testing procedures are put in place quickly to ensure that drivers can be treated and return home for Christmas safely.”