Imposing a coronavirus testing regime on lorry drivers crossing the English Channel “still means we will have delays at the border” and that UK supply chains will be hit, according to the Road Haulage Association (RHA).
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said rapid lateral flow tests – which can give results in about 30 minutes – will be used to test HGV drivers at the ports in a deal to reopen the border between France and the UK.
The French authorities will be carrying out similar testing on hauliers entering the UK in a programme that is set to get under way on Wednesday.
The RHA estimate between 8,000 to 10,000 delayed lorries are now in Kent and its surrounding areas, in truck stops and at depots waiting for borders to reopen and to cross the Channel.
A RHA spokesman added: “Even if the border is opened up, a short delay in the process is going to mean huge delays in the supply chain.”
Chief executive Richard Burnett said: “There are many serious implications to this latest situation, even lateral flow Covid testing will have a massive impact on the supply chain.”
The welfare of the drivers is also an issue, with Mr Burnett saying: “What happens to them? How is it all going to play out? Are they going to be tested on site or are they going to have to go somewhere else to do it?”
The majority of HGV drivers crossing into Europe take rest breaks in their cabs and they maintain strict social distancing when leaving them for comfort breaks, according to the RHA.
Mr Burnett said that HGV drivers who are “caught up in this mess” have limited access to toilet and washing facilities, and the majority have none.
He fears the current situation involving a lack of basic facilities could be putting their health at risk.
He said: “It’s exacerbating the very situation that it was supposed to prevent. For example, what will happen to those drivers who test positive?
“They will be unfit to drive but where will they go? They will be unable to quarantine with their families in Europe and what will happen to their vehicles?
“Who will be responsible for the deep cleaning of their cabs? And for those carrying return loads, what will happen to their cargo? This is going to be an extremely expensive exercise.”
Meanwhile, Transport secretary Grant Shapps has announced a temporary relaxation of drivers’ hours for hauliers – increasing the driving limit of nine hours to 11 – to help them get through UK borders safely over the coming weeks.