More areas could face Tier 4 measures as mass testing aims to ease port chaos

More areas of England could be plunged into Tier 4 from Boxing Day while a mass testing programme was due to get under way to alleviate congestion at the border between France and the UK.

Reports suggested ministers would meet on Wednesday to decide whether more parts of the country would be put under the toughest restrictions amid fears over the spread of a new mutant strain of coronavirus.

It came as France lifted its travel ban and allowed journeys from the UK to resume, but said those seeking to travel must have a negative coronavirus test result.

The Daily Telegraph reported local leaders and health officials in Birmingham met on Tuesday night to discuss the possibility of the city being moved into Tier 4, while areas in lower tiers could be moved up to Tier 3.

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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)
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Genomic researchers have found the new variant, which is said to be 70% more infectious than previous strains, has already spread around the UK, with cases identified in Wales and Scotland.

Health chiefs in Cumbria have said the new variant is in the county and could be behind sharp increases in new cases, while Lancashire's director of public health said there was a "high likelihood" the new variant was in the county.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has written to the Prime Minister to say his party would back any Government moves to tighten restrictions if that is what scientists recommended.

Coronavirus - Mon Dec 21, 2020
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps during a media briefing in Downing Street on Covid-19 (Tolga Akmen/PA)

Meanwhile, it is expected NHS Test and Trace staff and the military will be deployed for the mass testing programme in Kent, where more than 2,800 HGVs were stuck on Tuesday afternoon.

France said a negative test result, taken less than 72 hours before the journey, would be required for those entering the country from the UK.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said rapid lateral flow tests – which can give results in about 30 minutes – will be used in the testing programme, while the French authorities will be carrying out similar testing on hauliers entering the UK.

Full details of the testing programme have not yet been released, but Mr Shapps warned it could take until Christmas for congestion to be relieved near ports.

He said: "We have managed to get all those tests to Kent, enough for all the vehicles which will want to return before Christmas, so that won't be an issue.

"Obviously there's a physical issue of providing the test, getting the results. A negative test allows you to leave.

"But all of that requires operationalising and that can't happen in an instant, so this will take two or three days for things to be cleared."

He urged hauliers not to travel to Kent until further notice.

Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at business group Logistics UK, said it was "vital" that testing procedures are "stood up fast to ensure drivers can be processed and get home for Christmas safely".

She added: "The backlog of traffic across the region will take time to clear so hauliers should wait for further news before travelling to Kent."

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.

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.

The Transport Secretary also announced the temporary relaxation of drivers' hours for hauliers to help them get through UK borders safely over the coming weeks.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that perishable produce such as seafood must be prioritised if hauliers start moving freight across the Channel again on Wednesday.

She tweeted: "We still await detail of the agreement, but if freight starts moving tomorrow – as we must hope it will – the plan to prioritise perishable produce such as seafood should be activated immediately."

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(PA Graphics)

Meanwhile:

– A group of Sikh volunteers and a local football club were among those sourcing hundreds of meals for lorry drivers stuck in Kent.

– 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.

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