A mass testing programme for lorry drivers will get under way on Wednesday to alleviate congestion at ports after an agreement was reached to reopen the border between France and the UK.
French authorities announced that journeys from the UK will be allowed to resume on Wednesday after the coronavirus ban was lifted, but those seeking to travel must have a negative test result.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed on Tuesday evening that rapid lateral flow tests will be used to test HGV drivers.
The protocol agreed with the French government will be reviewed on December 31 – but could run until January 6, the Department for Transport (DfT) said.
All lorry drivers, irrespective of nationality, will require a lateral flow test, which can provide results in about 30 minutes.
The French government will also carry out sample testing on incoming freight to the UK, the DfT said.
Mr Shapps said: “I am pleased that we have made this important progress with our French counterparts this evening.
“This protocol will see the French border reopen to those travelling for urgent reasons, provided they have a certified negative Covid test.
“We continue to urge hauliers not to travel to Kent until further notice as we work to alleviate congestion at ports.”
The travel ban was imposed in response to fears about the spread of the more infectious coronavirus strain, which is spreading in the UK.
#COVID19: "Planes, boats and Eurostar trains will resume service as of tomorrow morning. French nationals, people living in France and those with a legitimate reason will have to be carrying a negative test" – French Minister Delegate for Transport: https://t.co/WWdzbczNP7
— French Embassy UK (@FranceintheUK) December 22, 2020
In a press release, the French foreign affairs ministry said that from 11pm UK time (midnight in France) there would be a “limited resumption of the movement of people from the United Kingdom to France subject to negative health tests sensitive to the variant”.
The statement said that a negative test result, taken less than 72 hours before the journey, is required and this can be either a “PCR or antigen test” sensitive to the new variant.
Those who can make journeys include French and EU residents, British or third-party nationals who normally live in France or the EU, as well as some other groups.
French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebarri said: “Planes, boats and Eurostar trains will resume service as of tomorrow morning.
“French nationals, people living in France and those with a legitimate reason will have to be carrying a negative test.”
More than 2,800 HGVs were stuck in Kent on Tuesday afternoon as a result of the disruption.
The French decision to ease its restrictions came after the European Commission recommended a joint approach from EU members in response to the mutant VUI 202012/1 coronavirus.
The World Health Organisation’s European chief Hans Kluge said limiting travel to contain the spread of the new variant was “prudent” until there was more information, but supply chains for “essential goods” and essential travel “should remain possible”.
Meanwhile, scientific advisers continued to press the case for tougher restrictions in response to the VUI 202012/1 variant, which is 70% more infectious than previous strains.
– Official figures showed a further 691 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Tuesday and there had been another 36,804 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.
– More than 84,000 deaths involving Covid-19 have occurred in the UK, according to analysis of official statistics.
– Soldiers from the British Army have been called in by the Welsh Ambulance Service to drive its vehicles and support teams responding to emergency callouts.