France and the UK moved closer to a deal on Tuesday that would allow some personal travel and thousands of stalled freight trucks to resume movement between both countries.
A communique by French Prime Minister Jean Castex’s office on Tuesday said French citizens could return to France from the UK starting Wednesday, if they can show proof of a negative Covid-19 test within the previous 72 hours. Other nationals who live in France or the European Union will also be able to enter France from the UK with a negative test result.
“Planes, boats and Eurostars will resume service tomorrow morning. French nationals, residents in France and those who have a legitimate reason must present a negative test,” France’s Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari tweeted.
Fearing the spread of a potentially more contagious coronavirus variant, France was among dozens of countries which closed their borders with the UK over the weekend.
The French closure was the most significant as it also restricted the entry of freight. On Tuesday, nearly 3,000 trucks remained stranded in England and British supermarkets warned of shortages of some goods just days before Christmas.
According to a statement from the UK Department of Transport, admittance into France will only be granted “to those travelling for urgent reasons – including hauliers – French citizens, and British citizens with French residency.”
This new protocol will be reviewed on December 31, but could remain in place until January 6th. All freight truck drivers will be required to take an antigen test that can detect the new strain of Covid-19 and provide results in under an hour, according to the statement.
France will also conduct sample testing on incoming freight to the UK, it adds.
The French communique had said that people entering France could also take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test instead of the antigen test. However, the turnaround time for PCR tests in the UK can range from one to three days, according to the latest data from the UK Department of Health.
The crossing between the English port of Dover and the French city of Calais is a major European trade artery, and the port of Dover handles around 17% of the UK’s goods imports.
As of Tuesday morning, about 873 vehicles were waiting at a disused airport site, with approximately 650 vehicles on the M20 motorway, the UK’s Department for Transport said.
While drivers from Europe are not prohibited from entering the UK, fears were rising that hauliers would resist doing so for fear of not being able to return home, leading to food shortages.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Schapps urged freight truck drivers not to travel to Kent County, where Dover is located, until further notice, while a mass testing program for HGV drivers gets underway.
“We continue to urge hauliers not to travel to Kent until further notice as we work to alleviate congestion at ports,” he said, according to the Transport Department statement.
The period leading up to Christmas is traditionally a busy time for trade, as fresh produce from Europe is imported for the festive period. On top of this, the UK is stockpiling ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.
On Monday, Sainsbury’s, one of the UK’s leading supermarket chains, said If nothing changes, there will be shortages of lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit.
Meanwhile, the British government says it is providing food, drink and toilets for British truck drivers currently stuck in gridlock in the area surrounding the Eurotunnel.
A Romanian driver named Adrian, who is stuck at Dover, told CNN, “A lot of people are making their holidays here in the cars … they cannot go home. It’s not good. We are lucky because we are here in Dover, but a lot of people are stuck on the roads. They can’t go to the toilet or have a shower.”
“We do not get respect at all,” he said, adding that if freight trucks remain stopped, “nobody’s going to eat.”
Luke McGee and Salma Abdelaziz contributed to this report.