France will reopen its border with Britain, allowing truck drivers and their freight to cross the English Channel on Wednesday for the first time since Sunday night. But the deal announced late Tuesday won’t immediately alleviate the lines of trucks parked in the southeast of England and delays to the transport of perishable food on board.
All drivers will have to take a rapid coronavirus test and show evidence of a negative result before traveling into France, according to the announcement by the British Department for Transport of an agreement between the British and French governments. The British army will reportedly be used to oversee the thousands of tests that will be needed in the massive logistical effort. Testing the drivers currently waiting near the ports could take several days to complete, and Britain’s transport minister on Tuesday told drivers waiting elsewhere in the country to delay travel to the border.
On Sunday night, France closed its border for 48 hours to all travelers, including truck drivers, in response to a new strain of the coronavirus that has been spreading rapidly in England. The decision left more than 2,800 trucks stranded near the Port of Dover and the Eurotunnel in Folkestone, which were shut to outbound traffic.
France allowed trucks to bring goods into Britain, but those shipments also declined amid fears that the drivers would be marooned once they crossed onto the island.
“It’s a story of human misery,” Rod McKenzie, the director of policy at Road Haulage Association, which represents the British road transport industry, said of the drivers, some of whom have been stuck sleeping in their trucks for two nights. “The government planning has been shocking on this, and there are no adequate lavatory facilities on the motorway for the past couple of days with up to 1,000 trucks parked up.”
Drivers unable to stay in nearby towns had no easy access to food. On Monday, local officials handed out cereal bars, one for each driver on the road, Mr. McKenzie said. On Tuesday, local charities also provided meals as authorities brought in more food and portable toilets.
The British government implemented plans that had been prepared for Brexit-related travel disruption in the new year early. It shut off part of a motorway to allow trucks to park on the road, and it opened an old airport that has capacity for more than 4,000 trucks to be parked and has a few more facilities.
Many of the drivers were said to be Eastern European nationals making return journeys to the mainland. Mr. McKenzie said that while drivers pack their own food, they are often not in Britain for more than a few hours so they wouldn’t necessarily bring a lot.
On Tuesday, the European Commission issued a nonbinding…
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