COVID-19: Transport secretary criticises France’s ‘rather unnecessary’ travel ban as hauliers warn ‘it’s not over’ | UK News

France’s ban on lorry drivers entering the country from the UK was “rather unnecessary”, the transport secretary has said.

Havoc was sprung on Kent’s roads last weekend when a new coronavirus variant discovered in southeast England led to dozens of countries quickly shutting their borders to Britain.

While most exempted hauliers, France did not, meaning any accompanied freight driven in a truck or lorry could not pass through for 48 hours – leading to a backlog of thousands of lorries unable to leave the UK.

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Thousands of HGVs line up to get into Dover

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‘Help’: Thousands of lorries still stuck at Kent

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News the situation was “very inconvenient for everyone and meant a lot of people missed their Christmases”.

“I think that the whole thing has been rather unnecessary,” he said.

“I don’t think there was a good reason to close the border for more than two days,” he added, explaining that lorry drivers have a lower chance of carrying the virus as they spend much of their days inside their cabs.

An agreement has since been struck allowing accompanied freight to start travelling over the Channel by ferry or train again, provided drivers returned a negative lateral flow test.

But Mr Shapps signalled he felt it unnecessary to deny drivers entrance to France without a test, saying: “We know that the EU Commission has said they don’t support this testing at borders for hauliers for one simple reason… [lorry drivers] have a much lower chance of having coronavirus than those in the rest of the population.”

An overflow lorry park for freight drivers waiting to cross into France has been closed, leaving them free to head back towards Dover.

DOVER, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 24: 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. The British government deployed its Track and Trace team to administer Covid-19 tests to lorry drivers waiting to cross at Dover. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Drivers now have to deliver a negative COVID-19 test to cross the Channel
Manston Airport in Kent, after it was cleared of lorries following a huge backlog caused by the France travel and partial trade ban. Pic: Grant Shapps
By 9am on Boxing Day, the backlog was cleared. Pic: Grant Shapps

Earlier, the transport secretary said that by 9am on Boxing Day, all hauliers had left Manston airfield – the site used to manage disruption in Kent.

He added that 15,526 coronavirus tests had been carried out on drivers, yielding 36 positive results which “are being verified”.

Freight lorries remain queued up on the M20 motorway, southbound, leading to the Port of Dover at Mersham in south east England on December 24, 2020, as rail and sea links between the UK and France are to remain open over Christmas to clear the backlog of thousands of trucks stranded by a new strain of coronavirus. - Thousands of European truckers on Wednesday spent a fourth night sleeping in the cabs of their vehicles, which are stuck close to the major cross-Channel port of Dover while the drivers wait to pass a Covid test, as required by France for travel. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Hundreds of lorries were queuing up on the approach to Dover

Congestion is continuing to ease at the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel, although more drivers who held off leaving for the border over Christmas are expected to join the queue soon.

Duncan Buchanan, policy director at the Road Haulage Association, warned it is “not over yet”.

Freight Lorries and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) are stacked at Manston Airport near Ramsgate, south east England on December 23, 2020, where freight transport was diverted to wait, after France closed its borders for 48 hours to contain the spread of new strain of coronavirus. - Europe on Wednesday began lifting travel bans on Britain put in place  to contain a new fast-spreading Covid strain while WHO experts were set to meet on a response to it. Britain announced on Tuesday it had reached an agreement with France to allow lorry drivers stranded in the UK following the closure of the border to leave, provided they take a lateral flow Covid-19 test. (Photo by William EDWARDS / AFP) (Photo by WILLIAM EDWARDS/AFP via Getty Images)
Thousands of lorries waiting to cross the border were kept at Manston airfield

“We still have all the people who delayed travelling, who will start to want to get through. Some people will have parked up in Essex and will be looking at moving again,” he said.

“Next week is a normal working week so I would expect the vehicles to increase then too. It’s not over yet and we will see what happens next.”

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