French agree to ease travel ban, but hauliers still warned to avoid Kent

French authorities have 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.

The conditions may do little to ease congestion in Kent caused by the French decision to stop hauliers using the Channel crossing.

It is thought that UK authorities will use rapid lateral flow tests to test lorry drivers to help get freight moving again.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urged lorry drivers not to head to the county in the hope of boarding a ferry or train.

The travel ban was imposed in response to fears about the spread of the more infectious coronavirus strain, which is spreading in the UK.

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.

24 PHOTOS
Dover chaos
See Gallery
Dover chaos
Police hold back drivers trying to enter the Port of Dover in Kent after French authorities announced that the coronavirus ban was lifted and journeys from the UK will be allowed to resume, but that those seeking to travel must have a negative test result. (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)
Police hold back drivers trying to enter the Port of Dover in Kent after French authorities announced that the coronavirus ban was lifted and journeys from the UK will be allowed to resume, but that those seeking to travel must have a negative test result. (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)
Police officers form a cordon at the entrance to the port in Dover, in Kent, south east England on December 23, 2020, after the UK and France agreed a protocol to reopen the border to accompanied freight arriving in France from the UK. - France and Britain reopened cross-border travel after a snap 48-hour ban to curb the spread of a new coronavirus variant threatened UK supply chains. Accompanied frieght will now be allowed to cross the channel from the port of Dover but all lorry drivers will require a lateral flow test and a negative Covid-19 result before the travel. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Hauliers protesting outside the Port of Dover in Kent, after French authorities announced that the coronavirus ban has been lifted and journeys from the UK will be allowed to resume, but that those seeking to travel must have a negative test result. (Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images)
Police hold back drivers trying to enter the Port of Dover in Kent after French authorities announced that the coronavirus ban was lifted and journeys from the UK will be allowed to resume, but that those seeking to travel must have a negative test result. (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)
DOVER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 23: Travellers to Europe are stopped by police officers at the Port of Dover on December 23, 2020 in Dover, United Kingdom. Nearly 3,000 lorries were stranded around Kent after France banned all travel from the UK on Sunday, citing concerns over a new variant of covid-19. Late Tuesday, the countries reached a deal to restart freight travel for drivers with a recent negative covid-19 test. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Drivers stand in the road as freight lorries and goods vehicles queue on a closed section of the M20 motorway which leads to the Port of Dover, near Ashford in Kent, south east England on December 22, 2020, after a string of countries banned travel including accompanied freight arriving from the UK, due to the rapid spread of a more-infectious new coronavirus strain. - Britain's critical south coast port at Dover said on December 20 it was closing to all accompanied freight and passengers due to the French border restrictions "until further notice". (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Police hold back drivers trying to enter the Port of Dover in Kent after French authorities announced that the coronavirus ban was lifted and journeys from the UK will be allowed to resume, but that those seeking to travel must have a negative test result. (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)
DOVER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 23: Travellers to Europe are stopped by police officers at the Port of Dover on December 23, 2020 in Dover, United Kingdom. Nearly 3,000 lorries were stranded around Kent after France banned all travel from the UK on Sunday, citing concerns over a new variant of covid-19. Late Tuesday, the countries reached a deal to restart freight travel for drivers with a recent negative covid-19 test. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Police hold back drivers trying to enter the Port of Dover in Kent after French authorities announced that the coronavirus ban was lifted and journeys from the UK will be allowed to resume, but that those seeking to travel must have a negative test result. (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)
A sign informs drivers that the French border crossing is closed at the cordoned entrance to the ferry terminal at the Port of Dover in Kent, south east England on December 22, 2020, after France closed its borders to accompanied freight arriving from the UK due to the rapid spread of a new coronavirus strain. - Britain sought to sound a note of calm saying they were working as fast as possible to unblock trade across the Channel after France shut its borders to UK hauliers in a bid to contain a new variant of the coronavirus. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Lanes for frieght lorries are empty at the entrance to the closed ferry terminal at the Port of Dover in Kent, south east England on December 22, 2020, after France closed its borders to accompanied freight arriving from the UK due to the rapid spread of a new coronavirus strain. - Britain sought to sound a note of calm saying they were working as fast as possible to unblock trade across the Channel after France shut its borders to UK hauliers in a bid to contain a new variant of the coronavirus. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Freight lorries are seen parked at Dover Marina in Kent, south east England on December 22, 2020, adjacent to the Port of Dover as queuing trucks wait to continue their journeys after France closed its borders to accompanied freight arriving from the UK due to the rapid spread of a new coronavirus strain. - Britain sought to sound a note of calm saying they were working as fast as possible to unblock trade across the Channel after France shut its borders to UK hauliers in a bid to contain a new variant of the coronavirus. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Turkish long-haul truck drivers sit down to breakfast at a truck stop off the M20 motorway which leads to the Port of Dover, near Ashford in Kent, south east England on December 22, 2020, as they queue unable to continue their journeys after France closed its borders to accompanied freight arriving from the UK due to the rapid spread of a more-infectious new coronavirus strain. - Britain sought to sound a note of calm saying they were working as fast as possible to unblock trade across the Channel after France shut its borders to UK hauliers in a bid to contain a new variant of the coronavirus. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Freight lorries are seen parked at Dover Marina in Kent, south east England on December 22, 2020, adjacent to the Port of Dover as queuing trucks wait to continue their journeys after France closed its borders to accompanied freight arriving from the UK due to the rapid spread of a new coronavirus strain. - Britain sought to sound a note of calm saying they were working as fast as possible to unblock trade across the Channel after France shut its borders to UK hauliers in a bid to contain a new variant of the coronavirus. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
A police car patrols the stacks of freight lorries and goods vehicles queuing on a closed section of the M20 motorway which leads to the Port of Dover, near Ashford in Kent, south east England at sunrise on December 22, 2020, after a string of countries banned travel including accompanied freight arriving from the UK, due to the rapid spread of a more-infectious new coronavirus strain. - Britain's critical south coast port at Dover said on December 20 it was closing to all accompanied freight and passengers due to the French border restrictions "until further notice". (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
A police car patrols along the stacks of Freight lorries and goods vehicles queuing on a closed section of the M20 motorway which leads to the Port of Dover, near Ashford in Kent, south east England at sunrise on December 22, 2020, after a string of countries banned travel including accompanied freight arriving from the UK, due to the rapid spread of a more-infectious new coronavirus strain. - Britain's critical south coast port at Dover said on December 20 it was closing to all accompanied freight and passengers due to the French border restrictions "until further notice". (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Drivers are seen in the road as freight lorries and goods vehicles queue on a closed section of the M20 motorway which leads to the Port of Dover, near Ashford in Kent, south east England on December 22, 2020, after a string of countries banned travel including accompanied freight arriving from the UK, due to the rapid spread of a more-infectious new coronavirus strain. - Britain's critical south coast port at Dover said on December 20 it was closing to all accompanied freight and passengers due to the French border restrictions "until further notice". (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Local traffic drives on an empty A20, the main route into Dover in Kent, south east England on December 22, 2020, as queuing trucks are organised and 'stacked' on the M20 and elsewhere waiting to continue their journeys after France closed its borders to accompanied freight arriving from the UK due to the rapid spread of a new coronavirus strain. - Britain sought to sound a note of calm saying they were working as fast as possible to unblock trade across the Channel after France shut its borders to UK hauliers in a bid to contain a new variant of the coronavirus. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
A sign informs drivers that the French border crossing is closed at the cordoned entrance to the ferry terminal at the Port of Dover in Kent, south east England on December 22, 2020, after France closed its borders to accompanied freight arriving from the UK due to the rapid spread of a new coronavirus strain. - Britain sought to sound a note of calm saying they were working as fast as possible to unblock trade across the Channel after France shut its borders to UK hauliers in a bid to contain a new variant of the coronavirus. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
A sign informs drivers that the French border crossing is closed at the cordoned entrance to the ferry terminal at the Port of Dover in Kent, south east England on December 22, 2020, after France closed its borders to accompanied freight arriving from the UK due to the rapid spread of a new coronavirus strain. - Britain sought to sound a note of calm saying they were working as fast as possible to unblock trade across the Channel after France shut its borders to UK hauliers in a bid to contain a new variant of the coronavirus. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Police block the exit from the Port of Dover in Kent, after French authorities announced that the coronavirus ban has been lifted and journeys from the UK will be allowed to resume, but that those seeking to travel must have a negative test result. (Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images)
Drivers stand in the road by their vehicles as they queue trying to enter the port of Dover in Kent, south east England, on December 23, 2020, that is still cordoned after the UK and France agreed a protocol to reopen the border to accompanied freight arriving in France from the UK requiring all lorry drivers to show a negative Covid-19 test. - France and Britain reopened cross-border travel after a snap 48-hour ban to curb the spread of a new coronavirus variant threatened UK supply chains. Accompanied frieght will now be allowed to cross the channel from the port of Dover but all lorry drivers will require a lateral flow test and a negative Covid-19 result before the travel. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Drivers and their vehicles queue trying to enter the port of Dover, in Kent, south east England on December 23, 2020, after the UK and France agreed a protocol to reopen the border to accompanied freight arriving in France from the UK. - France and Britain reopened cross-border travel after a snap 48-hour ban to curb the spread of a new coronavirus variant threatened UK supply chains. Accompanied frieght will now be allowed to cross the channel from the port of Dover but all lorry drivers will require a lateral flow test and a negative Covid-19 result before the travel. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

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."

Mr Shapps tweeted: "Good progress today and agreement with the French Government on borders.

"We will provide an update on hauliers later this evening, but hauliers must still NOT travel to Kent this evening."

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 EU-wide approach recommended by the commission would allow essential travel, and transit of passengers should be facilitated.

Flight and train bans "should be discontinued given the need to ensure essential travel and avoid supply chain disruptions", the commission said.

EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders said: "Member states should take co-ordinated action to discourage non-essential travel between the UK and the EU."

But "at the same time, blanket travel bans should not prevent thousands of EU and UK citizens from returning to their homes".

Transport commissioner Adina Valean said: "Within the EU, it is crucial that transport workers are exempted from any restrictive measures."

The EU's recommendation suggested rapid tests should be used to avoid disruption to cargo flows.

Despite the European Commission recommendations, Ireland extended restrictions on travel from Great Britain until December 31 which ban passenger flights and sea crossings.

The situation at the Channel has led to concerns about the supply of food imported from the continent and exports heading to France.

Thousands of lorry movements are being disrupted by the French travel ban, the Food and Drink Federation told MPs.

"We reckon about 4,000 are on their way to Dover at various points," the federation's chief executive Ian Wright said.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium (BRC), told the Business Select Committee: "If we do not see the empty trucks, which have already delivered to warehouses and stores, getting back over the Channel, they will not be able to pick up the next consignment of fresh fruit, vegetables, salad vegetables.

"What we've been told by members is that unless those trucks can start travelling again and go back to Spain and Portugal and other parts of Europe, we will have problems with fresh produce from December 27."

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

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.

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Sage scientific advisory panel, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "Unfortunately, it does look like the virus is probably across the country already and so I do think that we might, unfortunately, have to impose tougher restrictions across the country."

Genomic researchers have found the new and more infectious variant of Covid-19 has already spread around the UK, with cases identified in Wales and Scotland.

The Covid-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium sampled cases around the UK and found the variant is also in the South West, Midlands and North of England, areas that are under Tier 2 and 3 restrictions.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

In more positive news, the chief executive of BioNTech said the company was confident its vaccine would work against the new strain.

Ugur Sahin said "we don't know at the moment if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant", but because the proteins on the variant are 99% the same as the prevailing strains, the firm has "scientific confidence" in the jab.

More than 500,000 people have so far received the Pfizer/BioNTech jab in the UK.

Meanwhile:

– 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.

Read Full Story Click here to comment

FROM OUR PARTNERS