CALAIS, France (AP) – Trucks moved slowly through checkpoints in the English port of Dover and crossed the Channel on Thursday to the French port of Calais after France partially reopened its borders with Britain after a scare about a new variant of the virus that spreads quickly.
Still, thousands of truck drivers and travelers remained trapped in the massive congestion at the port of Dover on Christmas Eve, hampered by the slow delivery of the coronavirus tests now required by France. One by one, the trucks passed in the direction of the ferries and trains that connect Britain to France, while authorities checked whether drivers had the negative virus test now required to cross.
On the French side, strong winds whipped the coast before dawn and the vast port of Calais – which normally receives up to 4,000 trucks a day – has remained quieter than usual.
Authorities warned that the buildup could take days to resolve. A UK road transport expert estimated that there could be 8,000 to 10,000 trucks caught up in the chaos near Dover.
Dozens of countries around the world began barring people from Britain last weekend after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that large areas of southern England had to be placed under severe restrictions to contain a new, more contagious version. of the virus that hit London and southeastern England.
Britain has seen rising rates of infection in recent weeks, with many hospitals getting close to capacity. On Wednesday, the country recorded an additional 744 deaths and a record 39,237 confirmed cases. Christmas meetings and festive shopping were canceled for millions at the last minute in an attempt to control the spread of the virus.
The announcement of the coronavirus variant increased anxiety at a time when Europe was hit by new infections and virus deaths. Europe as a whole has recorded more than 500,000 virus-related deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University count that experts agree is probably an under-count due to lost cases and other factors.
But France’s decision was of the greatest concern, as France is an important trade and travel channel between Britain and the continent. The UK relies heavily on trade links across the Channel to the mainland for food at this time of year, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.
On Thursday, French Ambassador Catherine Colonna said that two dozen French firefighters had been sent to Dover, bringing 10,000 coronavirus tests to drivers desperate to return home for Christmas. British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said British and French officials had agreed to keep the border between countries open during Christmas to help carriers and travelers return home.
France defended its way of dealing with the border situation after the EU transport commissioner made unusually strong public criticisms.
Commissioner Adina Valean, from Romania, tweeted: “I am sorry that France went against our recommendations and brought us back to the situation we were in in March, when supply chains were interrupted.”
France’s European Affairs Minister, Clement Beaune, tweeted that France “exactly followed the EU’s recommendation” and is now “more open than other European countries” to Britain’s arrivals.
Some European countries relaxed their travel limits in Britain on Wednesday, although many remain there. China on Thursday became the last nation to suspend flights to and from the UK
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