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Chaos at Dover: 10,000 angry lorry drivers clash with police and demand to be let across the channel as huge backlog builds up after government admits it will take DAYS to administer 30-minute tests to get them home

Tensions in Dover boiled over this morning as dozens of angry lorry drivers who have been stuck at the port for the last two days clashed with police after testing staff arrived in an attempt to get them moving again. The truckers, who are trying to reach their homes in Europe for Christmas, tried to […]

Tensions in Dover boiled over this morning as dozens of angry lorry drivers who have been stuck at the port for the last two days clashed with police after testing staff arrived in an attempt to get them moving again.

The truckers, who are trying to reach their homes in Europe for Christmas, tried to force their way past officers guarding the port. Hundreds left their cabs and walked along the A20 to the port entrance in Kent at 8am jeering and whistling, with some shouting in English: ‘Open the border’, ‘We just want to go home’ and ‘F*** you, Boris!’

At one point several of them surged forwards towards a line of Kent Police officers who were forced to push them back as days of simmering anger at the chaotic situation amid the Covid-19 pandemic bubbled to the surface.  Some drivers showed police apparently negative results, but an officer said a lot of them were ‘fake test sheets’.

A deal has finally been struck with France after a ban on arrivals from the UK was imposed by President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday, which has since seen thousands of trucks stranded in Kent, unable to cross the Channel.

Mr Macron had wanted lab-processed PCR tests which can take up to 72 hours before results are received. But he caved in after a third night of talks following pressure from fellow European leaders who urged a compromise.

A Whitehall source said: ‘Many of these are European lorries – there are a lot from Poland, for example – and [EU] member states have been telling France they want to get their drivers home. In the end, Macron folded.’

It comes as Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick warned it may take a ‘few days’ to clear the backlog of around 4,000 lorries waiting to cross the Channel. He said he hoped HGVs would begin crossing this morning.

The agreement requires every driver to have been tested for coronavirus, using controversial lateral flow tests, which are able to turn around results in under an hour but have had their effectiveness questioned.

However experts warned the UK still faces an uphill battle to test 6,000 drivers a day for coronavirus – with the International Road Transport Union warning even a 30-minute test would be ‘absolutely a disaster’.

Those who come back negative will be told by text message in as little as 20 minutes, and be given the green light to travel, but positive cases will get a PCR test – and if they are still positive, sent to a Covid-secure hotel to isolate.

Until January 6, only lorry drivers and French and EU citizens or residents who have an essential reason to travel who show a negative test result less than 72 hours old will be allowed into France.

A testing site has been set up at Manston Airfield, 18 miles from Dover, but it is unclear how the thousands of drivers who parked up in the town causing two mile tailbacks and traffic gridlock last night are going to reach it. Another testing point was being set up today three miles away at the Dreamland amusement park in Margate.

One Polish driver told MailOnline: ‘We are sick of this – I’ve been in Dover for two days and want to go home for Christmas. The French said their border was being opened but we haven’t seen any evidence of this being true.

‘There’s thousands of people queuing to get through the port and the roads are all at a standstill. Nobody wants another night sleeping in their cab.’

However a police officer at the scene said: ‘I understand why they are angry but they are directing their anger towards us when it’s the French authorities making the rules. They are insisting that only people who have tested negative for Covid-19 can come through. A lot of these drivers are waving fake test sheets.’

Staff wearing fluorescent jackets bearing the NHS Test and Trace logo arrived in the Kent town last night ahead of the huge testing regime, having made a 230-mile journey from Doncaster. As many as 6,000 tests a day could be carried out in a bid to help clear the huge backlog, with 150 soldiers also set to be drafted in to help. It comes as:

  • More areas of England could be put into Tier 4 from Boxing Day amid fears over the spread of the new strain;
  • Experts have found the variant has already spread around the UK, with cases identified in Wales and Scotland;
  • Health chiefs in Cumbria say the variant is in the county and could be behind sharp increases in new cases;
  • Lancashire’s director of public health said there was a ‘high likelihood’ the new variant was in the county;
  • Labour says it will back any Government moves to tighten restrictions if that is what scientists recommended;
  • Sinn Fein has said an island-wide travel shutout should be introduced in Ireland to stem the variant’s spread.

Today, passengers from the UK disembarked from ferries in the port of Calais following Britain and France’s deal easing the travel ban imposed over the discovery of the new Covid-19 variant. Much of Europe swiftly banned entry by British travellers and UK freight after a more transmissible strain of the coronavirus was found in Britain.

The ‘Cotes des Flandres’ ferry – the first ship to leave Dover after the restrictions were lifted – arrived at around 3.30am local time (2.30am UK time), followed shortly afterwards by P&O’s ‘Spirit of France’. A handful of passenger vehicles disembarked from the two ships but traffic was not expected to pick up until late this morning.

Emil Herkt, 26, from Tczew in Poland had delivered a consignment of metal to a warehouse in London on Sunday and been stranded in Britain ever since. He said: ‘It’s a farcical situation – nobody is telling us anything.

‘We have to apparently be tested for Covid but none of us know where to go. There is a testing site at Manston but that’s full already. Plus it’s nearly 20 miles away and the roads in and out of Dover are paralysed with traffic so how do we get there anyway?

‘Why haven’t the authorities set up testing here by the port where everyone is? It’s ridiculous as people are battling to get back to their homes for Christmas. The French are being very awkward and I mainly blame them but the British authorities haven’t handled this situation very well either.’

Ovidiu Badoiu, 47, a Romanian lorry driver who drove to Britain at the weekend to deliver a stock of fans to a factory in Telford, Shropshire, has been stuck in Dover since Monday.

He said: ‘It’s really difficult, I picked up my load in Romania and took it to the destination in the Midlands on Sunday and came down to Dover the following day where I’ve spent the last two nights sleeping in my lorry.

‘There are no toilets here, no where to get washed. I live in Valencia in Spain and just want to get back to my wife in time for Christmas. I think the French are being over the top about this, why are they not letting the lorries through? Hardly any of us are stopping in France, just travelling through it on to other destinations.’

Roads into Dover were gridlocked today causing traffic chaos with hundreds of vehicles parked up waiting to be allowed down to the ferry terminal. Residential streets as far as three miles away from the port were at a standstill.

Locals bared the brunt of the traffic backlog with some seen deciding to pull a U-turn and retreat home. Vehicles were held on the A2 Jubilee Way with queues building up for five miles back to the Honeywood industrial estate.

The traffic at the Whitfield Roundabout continued back on to the A256 – the main road HGV drivers who have had their Covid-19 test at Manston Airport near Ramsgate will use to return to the Port of Dover.

And Raluca Marian, general delegate to the European Union of the International Road Transport Union, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We are definitely in a better place than yesterday. At least the border is now open.

‘But the testing is a big issue. We have now several thousand drivers already at Manston Airport and in the Kent area, but we estimate around 10,000 and there are still around 7,000 to arrive there.

‘We are happy that finally we have a deal, that the borders are open. At the same time this testing is a big challenge for us and we don’t think it will work.

The backlog can’t be cleared if you get 30 minutes per driver, even with these quick tests, that’s going to be absolutely a disaster.

‘In spring, we had the famous temperature checks at the Austrian border in the first wave of the corona. It was much less than 30 minutes, round about five to ten minutes, and we had 60km of queues just because of these temperature checks.

‘Now that was a constant flow, so we didn’t have the backlog. Now we have 10,000 trucks piled up. So, New Year’s Eve, after New Year’s Eve, difficult to calculate.

‘We know that the European Commission is supporting and that pressure is being put on France to accept a better solution for testing. We know France insisted to have PCR tests for everybody, which is absolutely crazy, especially truck drivers.

‘This is really a lonely profession, they are alone in their cabins, they are not spreading. They are not only unnecessary, it’s a breach of France’s commitment earlier in the year when they committed to leave the logistics chain unaffected.

‘So we hope to have – at least if these tests are being kept, which we really hope not to be, we want no testing for truck drivers because even a 30-minute test is a disaster – but if these are kept, at least a kind of a compromise whereby you might have a testing corridor in France and not everybody stuck in the UK and tested there, could be reached and accepted by France, and we know the Commission is supporting that.’

Downing Street sources admit the programme ‘won’t be perfect’ from the off given its unprecedented nature, and warn that it could still be several days before traffic is flowing smoothly again.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News today: ‘We have had productive discussions over the last 24 to 48 hours, they have reached what seems like a sensible way forwards.

‘There is going to be quite a lot of work to do over the next few days and this isn’t going to be an issue that will be resolved immediately.

‘I wish events hadn’t played out in the way they have, but they have, we now have to move on and ensure that traffic can flow as quickly as possible across the Channel.

‘I hope that this morning you’ll see people and HGVs crossing the Channel at the short straits. We’re putting in place the infrastructure, so the Armed Forces will be doing that in the first instance to help us to set that up and to get through some of the backlog that you’ve seen.

‘They will then in turn hand over to civilians who will take this forward. We have a good operation in Kent that’s been tested very significantly in the last few days, led by the Kent Resilience Forum, but it has performed well.

‘So the work that had been done over a number of years to create the facility at Manston Airport, to create Operation Stack on the motorway, has worked quite successfully, but there is now a great deal to do.

‘The procedures are there. There will be testing at Manston and at multiple other locations. If you test positive using the swift lateral flow test, you’ll then be offered a PCR test, so you can get an even more refined outcome.

‘If you test positive again, you will then be offered Covid-secure hotel accommodation, and we’ve procured the first one of those not so far away.

‘So the HGV drivers will be able to drive there, leave their lorry there, and self-isolate for the next ten days before they’re able to cross the Channel successfully.’

The Communities Secretary said as of 7pm on Tuesday night there were just under 3,000 lorries at the disused airfield site at Manston, Kent.

Between 7-800 were part of Operation Stack on the M20, he said but ‘other HGVs and smaller vehicles are parked elsewhere in Kent’.

‘Whatever the number is, whether it is 4,000 or more, it is a significant number to work through,’ he acknowledged as he advised hauliers not to travel to Kent.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) said the testing regime ‘still means we will have delays at the border’.

The RHA estimates between 8,000 and 10,000 delayed lorries are now in Kent and its surrounding areas, in truck stops and at depots waiting for borders to reopen and to cross the Channel.

Chief executive Richard Burnett said: ‘There are many serious implications to this latest situation, even lateral flow Covid testing will have a massive impact on the supply chain.’

The welfare of the drivers is also an issue, with Mr Burnett saying: ‘What happens to them? How is it all going to play out? Are they going to be tested on site or are they going to have to go somewhere else to do it?’

Mr Burnett also questioned what would happen to the drivers who test positive.

‘They will be unfit to drive but where will they go?,’ he added. ‘They will be unable to quarantine with their families in Europe and what will happen to their vehicles?

‘Who will be responsible for the deep cleaning of their cabs? And for those carrying return loads, what will happen to their cargo? This is going to be an extremely expensive exercise.’

It is expected the Department for Transport will set out the full details of the testing programme on Wednesday.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps 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.’

France and the UK had previously been at loggerheads over which type of test would be required to allow trucks back on the road, with the travel ban imposed in response to fears about the spread of the more infectious coronavirus strain, which is spreading rapidly in the UK.

Mr Macron demanded the gold-standard PCR tests are used, which are more expensive, lab-based tests that can take up to 72 hours to process.

The UK, on the other hand, had wanted to use the faster lateral flow tests which can provide results within an hour – even though these are considered less effective unless administered by a nurse and were even dubbed effectively useless.

In a statement, the French foreign affairs ministry said that from midnight there would be a ‘limited resumption of the movement of people from the United Kingdom to France subject to negative health tests sensitive to the variant’.

It added that a negative test result, taken less than 72 hours before the journey, is required and this can be either a PCR or lateral flow test sensitive to the new variant, though a Department for Transport statement only mentions the quick tests.

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 deal marks a significant breakthrough after a long period of deadlock, with Brussels having called for an end to the border blockade which has seen 4,000 more lorries park up in Kent.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps tweeted last night: ‘Good progress today and agreement with the French Government on borders. We will provide an update on hauliers later this evening, but hauliers must still NOT travel to Kent this evening.’

French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari added: ‘French nationals, residents and those with a legitimate reason to be here must provide a negative test.’

Eurotunnel said only pre-booked passengers who had already tested negative should go to its terminal.

‘From 23:00hrs on 22/12/2020, to travel to France passengers will need: – A negative result from a Covid-19 test accepted by the French Government – Taken in the last 72 hours – An email or SMS certificate issued by the testing facility.

‘Please ensure you meet the French Government’s criteria before travelling to our terminal.

‘There is no Covid-19 testing facility at Eurotunnel. Go to our website to book or amend tickets. PLEASE DO NOT ARRIVE WITHOUT A BOOKING AS WE ARE FULLY BOOKED.’

It comes amid reports that the British military is preparing to test up to 6,000 hauliers a day with the controversial lateral flow test.

The EU has urged European countries to drop all travel bans imposed on the UK, including on the movement of freight, as a growing number of trucks now fill the motorway and side streets near Dover.

The bloc’s recommendation suggested rapid tests should be used to avoid disruption to cargo flows.

The European Commission also published guidance at lunchtime recommending all non-essential travel to and from the UK should be ‘discouraged’ because of the risk posed by a new mutant strain of coronavirus which spreads quicker than its predecessor.

But it added: ‘Flight and train bans should be discontinued given the need to ensure essential travel and avoid supply chain disruptions.’

On the specific issue of UK lorry drivers being allowed back onto the continent, Brussels said that where a member state requires them to take a coronavirus test before being allowed in – something France has pushed for – the process ‘should not lead to transport disruptions’.

There has been a furious behind-the-scenes row over the issue of testing lorry drivers with France and Britain both arguing for different methods of testing.

Operation Moonshot, Number 10’s ambitious plan to use the rapid kits to test million of people, came under fire from top scientists yesterday, with the Department of Health admitting they miss around a half of infections.

Furthermore, damning evidence now shows they may be effectively useless when self-administered, despite Downing Street’s current testing scheme relying on people taking their own swabs.

Hundreds of soldiers will be deployed to the former Manston airfield, according to the Times, where they will use the 20-minute lateral flow tests on drivers, with those returning positive results told to isolate in hotels.

Even despite tonight’s breakthrough, the scale of the backlog on both sides of the Channel means disruption at the ports is expected to last until at least Christmas Eve, with supermarkets warning of potential shortages of fruit and vegetables unless solutions are sped up.

Rachel Reeves, Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, has accused the Government of ‘dither and delay’ over its handling of the situation in Kent.

‘It is now over 48 hours since this situation began and there is no clear update from the Government – even to Kent County Council – on exactly how they are dealing with this,’ she said.

‘Once again, our communities, local businesses and restaurants are having to step up to the plate to feed lorry drivers who are stranded and exhausted.

‘All this while businesses exporting British produce are halted and put under even more strain by the chaos.

‘We really don’t need any more dither and delay from this Government.’

Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at business group Logistics UK, has said it is ‘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 desperate delivery drivers trapped in Dover tonight told how they faced a last gasp dash to be home for Christmas.

Marian and Diana Furduna and their nine-year-old daughter Julia have been in the UK since last Thursday having travelled from the city of Focsani in eastern Romania.

They were delivering Romanian wine, salami and cheese to restaurants and private customers in London and Manchester and had due to return home on Sunday laden with Christmas parcels full of sweets and toys.

However because French authorities closed their border with the UK that afternoon due to the emergence of a particularly contagious strain of Coronavirus, the family were left stranded and had to book a B&B in Stratford, East London.

Tonight they joined the two-mile tailback of lorries and vans lining up outside the port of Dover in Kent as French authorities finally announced they would open the border back up tomorrow morning.

They three of them are preparing to sleep in their cramped van in the hope of making the 30-hour journey home to Romania, via Calais, for Christmas.

Marian, 40, told MailOnline: ‘If we leave in good time tomorrow we may make it home in time for Christmas Day. It would be a Christmas miracle.

‘We regularly travel between Romania and UK delivering food and we should have been travelling back through France last Sunday afternoon.

‘But because it’s the festive season we were making more pick ups and didn’t get to Dover until the evening by which point the French had shut their border.

‘We went back to London and have stayed in a B&B since the weekend. We heard earlier today (Tuesday) that the French may start letting people back through so came back here to Dover but we are stuck in a traffic jam that hasn’t moved for an hour.

‘Luckily it’s not too cold but all three of us are going to sleep in the back of the van tonight among all the parcels.

‘We took Julia with us this time because we wanted to show her London. I’ve told her that Santa will still find her even if she’s in transit on the way back to Romania.

‘It’s a bad situation but we have to make the best of it.’

Rail, air and sea services will resume tomorrow morning between Britain and France with all those travelling required to show proof of a negative Coronavirus test taken within the previous 72 hours.

All drivers, irrespective of nationality, will require a lateral flow test which detects the new strain of Covid-19 and provides results in around 30 minutes, rather than the 24 hours required after a PCR test.

Three testing sites are understood to be setting up in Dover, a site just off the A20 outside the town and a former airfield in nearby Manston, Kent.

Lorry driver Patrick Martzak, 27, arrived in Britain on Sunday to pick up some furniture to take back to his Depot in the Polish city of Turek.

He said: ‘I’ve spent the last 40-hours living in my cab – no toilet, no where to get washed. Luckily I have some spare clothes.

‘I was hoping to spend Christmas with my family in Poland – not stuck in a lorry park in Dover.

‘We are being told that there are going to be three covid testing sites in and around Dover but how are they going to test everyone?

‘It’s going to be really tight – I’ve told my family that I may not be home.’

A cacophony of horns rang out through Dover late into the evening tonight as drivers grew weary of trying to get back home.

Some climbed out of their cabs to smoke and chat with friends on the busy A20 carriageway as police kept an eye on the huge stationary traffic jam.

David Wobe and Patrick Koluch were due to travel back to Katowice in Poland on Sunday but have been stuck in Dover ever since.

David, 24, had delivered hospital equipment to a site in Dartford, Kent and said that he had already taken a covid test in his homeland which had proven negative.

But he said: ‘The French are not going to accept this, I’ve been told, I’m going to have to have another test done and it may cost anything up to £200.

‘I know they have fears over this new strain of coronavirus but they are being too over the top I think.

‘I am here with seven other truck drivers and we all just want to go home and spend Christmas with our families.’

His colleague Patrick, 26, who had delivered car parts from Slovakia to the Jaguar car plant in the West Midlands, added: ‘I think everyone has had enough – it’s been a farcical situation.

‘Had I known that we’d have to stay here for this long – spending two days living in my lorry cab – I wouldn’t have made the journey.

‘As long as we get through France in good time tomorrow we should make it back home in time for Christmas.

‘It’s going to be a mad dash but I hope to spend it with my parents and family in Katowice. That would be the best gift!’

It comes as business chiefs and haulage bosses said they believed ‘there are about 4,000 food and drink lorries on their way to Dover’ and that the total backlog of vehicles waiting to make the crossing to the continent will be ‘probably nearer 6 or 7,000 by the end of today’.

The decision by France to impose a travel ban prompted anger in Downing Street, with some in Number 10 of the belief that Paris is using the border crisis to try to force Britain to cave in during Brexit trade talks.

But Mr Macron is facing a massive backlash as trapped French drivers accused him of ‘abandoning them in a foreign country’.

France announced the travel ban on arrivals from the UK on Sunday night after the identification of a new Covid-19 strain in the south east of England.

Huge numbers of lorries are now backed up in Kent, unable to make the crossing, leaving drivers spending a second night sleeping in their cabs.

The scale of the crisis was illustrated by aerial photographs showing hundreds of lorries parked at the disused Manston Airfield which was set aside by the Government as part of its no deal Brexit contingency plans.

It boasts the 11th-longest civilian runway in the UK at more than 9,000ft, meaning it is nearly two miles long.

The 48 hour closure is due to end at 11pm UK time tonight but France was not alone in imposing restriction on the UK, with more than 40 countries having banned flights.

The decision by France to ban freight, as well as passenger travel, caught Number 10 off guard with some officials and ministers of the view that Mr Macron is trying to use the situation as leverage in Brexit talks. A transport industry source told The Times that Downing Street was ‘incandescent’ when the ban was announced.

Critics believe the UK would be unable to cope with the double hit of coronavirus chaos and a no deal split from the EU on December 31.

One Tory MP told MailOnline that ‘Macron has been so bombastic over Brexit and fisheries over the last few weeks one must conclude it is a shot across the bows of the UK’.

The row over the travel ban came as Britain and the EU appeared to be inching closer to a breakthrough on the crunch issue of fishing rights in trade talks, amid rising optimism that the two sides could still strike a deal in the coming days.

Meanwhile, ministers are said to be preparing plans to crash any deal through the House of Commons and the Lords in a single day next week, with December 30 viewed as the most likely option.

The latest developments in the Dover crisis came as:

  • Retail industry boss warns lorry jams must be cleared to avoid fresh fruit and veg shortage at New Year
  • SAGE expert warns of a ‘human disaster’ unless there is a full New Year lockdown with variant everywhere
  • The threat to the vaccine rollout and routine operations grows as Covid-19 admissions across the UK surge
  • UK economy bounced back by 16 per cent between July and September but national debt highest for 60 years
  • Extremely vulnerable living in Tier Four areas are urged not to go to work even if they can’t work from home  
  • PM refuses to rule out keeping schools closed indefinitely – will reopen classrooms ‘if we can’ after Christma

Furious French drivers stuck in Dover have hit out at Mr Macron over the travel ban with apple grower Marie Noelle saying: ‘Macron, merde! Let me come home. I am French but this is all our fault. It is definitely political to do with Brexit and the fishing.’

Vanessa Ibarlucea, of France’s National Federation of Road Transport, hit out at Mr Macron’s preference for a PCR coronavirus test for people trying to get to the country.

She said: ‘It takes 48 hours to get an appointment and another 48 hours to get the results of a PCR test.

‘So our drivers will not be home with their families in time for December 24. Our drivers have been abandoned in a foreign country.’

The port chaos is just one of the coronavirus-related issues facing Britain, with one of the Government’s scientific advisers warning of the looming threat of a full New Year lockdown in England.

Professor Robert West, who sits on SAGE’s behaviour science panel, said the Government’s current methods were unlikely to contain the spread of Covid-19. He argued the UK needed to bolster social distancing rules and build a test, travel, isolate and support programme similar to ones seen in East Asia.

Home Secretary Priti Patel also hinted schools could be shut throughout January as Britain grapples with the new strain of coronavirus.

Ian Wright, the chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, told the Business Select Committee this afternoon that the chaos was a problem of the Government’s own making and that ministers should pay compensation to affected firms.

He said: ‘Much of this should have been avoided. The Government was well aware of the power of the announcement it made on Saturday night, indeed Chris Whitty went out of his way probably rightly to scare the population about the impact of the second variant of Covid.

‘But the point is everybody who listened to that will have known that everybody else in Europe was also going to be scared.’

He added: ‘It really is incumbent on the Government to come forward and be prepared I think to compensate those who have lost out because of that failure of authority.’

Mr Wright said his estimates suggest ‘there are about 4,000 food and drink lorries on their way to Dover at various points’ and when the blockade is finally ended there will be ‘over 4,000’ lorries which will have to be cleared.

Duncan Buchanan from the Road Haulage Association told the same committee that he believes ‘at least 4,000’ lorries will be stuck in the UK because of the border ban by the end of the day and that the total backlog could ultimately rise to ‘probably nearer 6-7,000’.

He said: ‘You have got to remember that what comes in is going to want to go out. So we have whatever the numbers that are being reported by EuroTunnel and by the Port of Dover or the ferry companies at the moment, all of those lorries are going to go out again and we have got two full days of complete stop.

‘So it is going to be probably nearer 6 or 7,000 by the end of today that are going to be the direct backlog going back out.’

Mr Buchanan warned the disruption will have lasting implications for supply chains, telling MPs: ‘Normally when we have supply chain disruption it is a particular port or it is a weather event.

‘This is of a different order of magnitude and in the context of Brexit and what is coming from January 1 this is the start of a very, very serious supply chain disruption of the like that we probably have never experienced.’

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium (BRC), told the committee: ‘The real issue we face is what happens in the next day or so.

‘If we do not see the empty trucks, which have already delivered warehouses and stores, getting back over the channel, they will not be able to pick up the next consignment of fresh fruit, vegetables, salad vegetables, all the food we do not grow in the country at this time of year.

‘What we’ve been told by members is that unless those trucks can start travelling again and go back to Spain and Portugal and other parts of Europe, we will [see] problems with fresh produce from December 27.

What do we know about UK’s travel restrictions so far?

A growing number of nations have banned flights from the UK in a bid to stop a mutant strain of coronavirus crossing their borders. Here are some answers to key questions on the latest changes to international travel rules:

– Which European countries have banned flights from the UK?

France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands have all said they will halt flights arriving from the UK. The Czech Republic has imposed stricter quarantine measures for people arriving from Britain.

– Which other countries have implemented travel bans?

Turkey and Morocco have announced they will be suspending air travel from the UK, while the official Saudi Press Agency reports Saudi Arabia is also suspending international flights for one week. El Salvador is barring entry to anyone who has visited the UK in the preceding 30 days. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said from midnight Sunday, Canada was putting a 72-hour stop on flights from the UK.

– When do the flight bans start and how long do they last?

The Netherlands ban came into force on Sunday morning, with it due to last for at least the rest of the year. Belgium’s prime minister Alexander De Croo issued a flight ban order for 24 hours starting at midnight on Sunday.

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza said an order was signed on Sunday blocking flights from Britain and preventing anyone who had been to the UK in the last 14 days from entering Italy. The order bans plane travel until January 6.

Austria and Italy have not specified when their plans to halt flights from the UK would take place.

Germany said it was banning flights from the UK starting at midnight, Berlin time, on Sunday, with the German dpa news agency reporting it would remain in place until at least December 31.

France has banned all travel from the UK for 48 hours from midnight on Sunday.

Bulgaria said it was temporarily ceasing flights to and from the UK from midnight on Sunday.

Finland is due to suspend all passenger flights with the UK for two weeks from Monday.

Poland is also due to halt flights from midnight on Monday, though it is not yet known how long the ban will be in place.

Denmark said all flights from Great Britain would be halted for 48 hours from Monday.

– What is the situation with Ireland?

The Irish Government said on Sunday that it was imposing a 48-hour ban on flights from Britain to Ireland. The restrictions come into force at midnight on Sunday.

– Is anyone exempt from the bans?

Ireland’s transport minister Eamon Ryan said ferries will continue to operate for freight between Britain and Ireland. ‘We need haulage coming in to keep our shelves full but other passengers will be restricted,’ he said. The German government said exemptions from its flight ban include repatriation flights of planes and their crews, postal, freight or empty flights and aircraft carrying medical personnel.

The Bulgarian embassy in London said on its website that Bulgarian citizens and their families, as well as permanent residents in Bulgaria, were able to enter the country subject to a 10-day quarantine if they fly through a different country or enter Bulgaria on land or by sea.

– What discussions are taking place between governments?

An EU crisis meeting has been called for Monday to discuss the coordination of the response to coronavirus among the 27 member states. The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) regards other countries’ travel restrictions as a matter for their own governments. It was previously understood to be in touch with international partners and monitoring the situation closely. But late on Sunday night No 10 revealed that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to chair a meeting of the UK Government’s Cobra civil contingencies committee on Monday.

– Why is this all happening?

A mutant strain of coronavirus sweeping across London and the south east of England has prompted the EU nations to start restricting inbound flights from the UK. Mr De Croo said Belgium’s flight ban was ‘out of precaution’, adding: ‘There are a great many questions about this new mutation and if it is not already on the mainland.’ The German embassy in London tweeted that flight restrictions were the result of ‘the coronavirus mutation’. On Saturday, Mr Johnson said there was ‘no evidence’ the new variant ’causes more severe illness or higher mortality’ but ‘it does appear to be passed on significantly more easily’. He said the new strain could be up to 70% more transmissible than the old virus variant.

– Are international train and ferry links running?

Eurostar said it was unable to run trains from London to Paris, Brussels, Lille or Amsterdam on Monday or Tuesday. Trains to London from Paris will continue to operate, with the rail company saying it planned to resume services to and from the UK on Wednesday. Eurotunnel said access to its UK site prohibited from 10pm after its last train left at 9.34pm.

Dover’s ferry terminal has also closed to ‘all accompanied traffic leaving the UK’ after France moved to shut its border.

– Am I allowed to travel abroad from England?

If you are living in one of the newly created Tier 4 areas, which encompasses London and parts of the south east and east of England, you must not travel abroad. Government guidance states people can only travel internationally if you are ‘legally permitted to do so, for example, because it is for work’. Across England people are advised to stay local and avoid travelling outside their area.

For those living in Tier 1, 2, and 3 areas, the guidance advises potential international travellers to ‘carefully consider whether they must travel abroad’. It advises them to ‘follow the rules in their area’ and consider the public health advice in the country they plan to visit.

Someone living outside Tier 4 can transit into or through a Tier 4 area to travel abroad if they need to. People are also warned to check travel advice from the FCDO and what rules are in place at their destination. For many countries the FCDO is advising against ‘all but essential travel’. – dailymail.co.uk