But the deal requires people to have proof of a negative Covid-19 test carried out in the past 72 hours, which led to a race to test drivers who are expected to attract the British military and the National Health Service (NHS).
Only two trucks arrived at the French port of Calais on Wednesday morning, a port press officer told CNN, with several thousand still lined up on a highway and at a disabled airport in southeastern England.
A testing regime that will allow transporters to leave Britain has been hastily organized, with 170 military personnel deployed to conduct mass ground tests. But little evidence of this was visible on Wednesday morning, with police advising drivers to take the test through the NHS or at Kent’s Manston airport.
And tension has increased among some drivers and officials, with crowds of transporters shouting and arguing with authorities about the stoppage, access to tests and the lack of facilities at the port of Dover on Wednesday. At dawn on Wednesday morning, visibly frustrated drivers complained to police about the lack of restrooms. “No shower, no bathroom, nothing,” said one.
At the end of the day, a CNN team witnessed a mobile test drive arriving at the port. However, the day ended as it began, with anxiety building among drivers desperate to return home for the holidays.
At least two people were arrested when fights broke out between police and truck drivers in the port city. The footage showed the police using truncheons to push truck drivers – although it is unclear what caused the incident.
Nearly 5,000 trucks are waiting to cross the border according to the Kent Resilience Forum, which deals with emergencies, in scenes that may herald more Brexit-related turmoil in the new year. On Tuesday, Highways England estimated that there were another 900 traffic jams on the M20, and hundreds more were stranded at Manston Airport, which was used as a parking lot.
The period before Christmas is traditionally a busy time for trade, as fresh products from Europe are imported for the festive period.
Meanwhile, the impact of the new coronavirus variant continued to be felt across the UK. On Wednesday, Matt Hancock, the secretary of health, announced that more regions would be placed under the strictest restrictions on coronavirus as of December 26.
This comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson effectively canceled millions of Christmas plans from the British on Saturday, imposing “level 4” restrictions in London and the south-east, despite promising for weeks that he would not stop families from gathering for the holiday.
And in another headache, Hancock confirmed on Wednesday that another new variant of the coronavirus – this one first identified in South Africa – was found in two people in Britain. He instructed anyone who has spent time in South Africa in the past 15 days, or knows someone who has, to quarantine immediately.
Tense scenes at the border
The crisis at the border with the UK is evident from the ground – where furious disputes between officials and drivers took place on Wednesday – and from the air, with images of seemingly endless lines of trucks spread across British newspapers.
“We don’t see tests coming in, without water, without food, (and) we are huddled on top of each other,” Vanessa Ibarlucea, a spokeswoman for France’s National Road Transport Federation, told CNN on Wednesday.
“We expect some drivers to be stuck on the other side on vacation,” she said.
The crossing between Dover and the French city of Calais, which serves as an important European commercial artery and manages about 17% of imports of goods from the United Kingdom, was interrupted after the announcement. The closure caused many British supermarket shelves to empty, in scenes reminiscent of the early days of the pandemic.
According to a statement from the UK Department of Transport, admission to France would now be granted “to those traveling on urgent grounds – including transporters – French citizens and British citizens with French residence” after an agreement was closed Tuesday night -market.
This new protocol will be revised on December 31, and may remain in effect until January 6. All cargo truck drivers are required to perform an antigen test that can detect the new Covid-19 strain and provide results in less than an hour, according to the statement.
But the police told truck drivers that they were still not allowed to cross, even though they had a negative test on Wednesday, claiming that the instructions came from French authorities. A police officer also told CNN that some drivers showed results of fraudulent tests.
“People are crazy and nervous now, because (we) are sure that we will not reach our families at Christmas,” a driver from Poland told CNN on Wednesday.
The driver, named Greg, described a tumultuous scene while some were waiting to be tested at Manston Airport, while others were waiting to see if NHS Test and Trace members would be deployed.
“We have been here since Monday morning and there is no information … they are sending us to the airport where there are (there are) 4,000 trucks and there is no test,” he said. “They’re doing some tests somewhere, I’m not sure where … why aren’t there tests here?”
The impact of the disruption is likely to be felt by British consumers for several days, experts said. “Even though working extremely fast and with Calais possibly closed for Christmas Day, it’s clear that it may take until the new year to return to normal operations,” said Ian Wright, chief executive of the United Kingdom’s Food and Drink Federation, on Wednesday -market.
“This means that we will probably see reduced availability on the shelves of some fresh vegetables and fruits locally starting next week. We will also see a significant disruption in the flow of ingredients to the UK,” he added.