France has agreed to allow freight and passengers who have tested negative for Covid-19 to enter its shores from the U.K., easing a two-day blanket ban on all arrivals from the country that left thousands of truck drivers stranded near the border amid the spread of a new and fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus spreading in Britain.
- According to the Associated Press, ferries from across the English Channel began arriving at the port of Calais and trains carrying freight and car passengers were allowed to enter France early on Wednesday.
- As part of a late-night agreement reached between the British and the French governments, people arriving from the U.K. will need to test negative for the virus less than 72 hours before traveling.
- Issues emerged on Wednesday morning however as Eurostar — which operates trains between London and Paris — told passengers that they will need to submit a negative result from a PCR Covid-19, the Independent reported, despite French authorities stating that they will accept results from the cheaper, faster and slightly less accurate lateral flow test.
- Truckers who had been stranded near Dover in the south of England are being tested for the virus by healthcare workers and the military, but the company that runs the undersea tunnel connecting the U.K. and France said that the resumption of traffic on the tunnel may take some time due to the massive backup, the AP report added.
- Delays due to testing caused tensions to boil over in Dover as angry truck drivers engaged in a scuffle with police and demanded to cross the tunnel immediately, Reuters reported.
- The drivers, who are mostly EU citizens, have been stuck at the border for more than two days without access to hot food or bathroom facilities and they have grown increasingly agitated as they realized that they may not be able to spend Christmas with their families, Reuters reported.
“I hope that this morning, you’ll see people… crossing the Channel,” British Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News on Wednesday. “We’re putting in place the infrastructure. So the armed forces will be doing that [Covid testing] in the first instance to help us to set that up and to get through some of the backlog that you’ve seen.”
On Tuesday, the European Union called on its member states to withdraw their blanket travel bans against people arriving from the U.K. Calling for “coordinated action to limit non-essential travel, the European Commission recommended that people should be allowed to enter from the U.K. as long as they undergo a test or quarantine. However, the commission suggested that transport workers should not be subject to any testing or quarantine requirements, a recommendation that has been ignored by France. Over 50 nations including most EU countries India, Canada, Hong Kong and many others have banned arrivals from the U.K. after reports emerged last week of the spread of a new, faster spreading- strain of Covid-19 in the country. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the mutated strain could be up to 70% more transmissible but hasn’t offered any additional data or evidence yet.
While French authorities have insisted that the border blockade was based on scientific concerns, the decision has caused anger in Britain as the country is presently engaged in tense talks with the EU over a post-Brexit trade deal, the AP report added. British tabloid The Sun took a dig at the French President Emmanuel Macron’s handling of the crisis on Wednesday with a headline calling him a ‘Covidiot’. Macron had tested positive for the disease last week and is presently recovering in isolation.