More than 15,000 lorry drivers tested for Covid after almost a week of disruption
More than 15,000 lorry drivers have been tested for coronavirus and the backlog at the testing site in Manston Airport is now cleared, transport secretary Grant Shapps said.
Grant Shapps tweeted: “Update on Kent lorry situation: 15,526 #Coronavirus tests now carried out. Just 36 positive results, which are being verified (0.23%). Manston now empty and lorries should no longer head there please."
Thousands of international lorry drivers spent Christmas in their cabs after almost a week of disruption at the English Channel border.
Around 3,000 hauliers were still waiting to cross into France from Kent on Friday evening despite hundreds of troops being drafted in to help clear the backlog.
However the Government has said there are still long queues on the roads leading to the Port of Dover.
The Department for Transport said in a tweet: “Although congestion has eased, there are still long queues and HGV hauliers should continue to avoid travelling to Kent.
“Drivers will not be able to cross the border without a negative Covid-19 test.”
France closed its border last Sunday following the discovery of a fast-spreading mutant Covid-19 strain in the UK, and drivers wishing to enter the country from Britain must now show proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken in the previous 72 hours.
Traffic flow has improved over Christmas Day and Boxing Day, with French firefighters and the Polish military’s Territorial Defence Force drafted in to help some 1,100 British military personnel with testing.
France closed its border last Sunday following the discovery of a fast-spreading mutant Covid-19 strain in the UK, causing severe disruptions at the Port of Dover.
Drivers wishing to enter the country from the UK must now show proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken in the past 72 hours.
Some 1,100 military personnel have since been deployed to Kent to help test hauliers queued at the nearby Manston Airport, on a closed section of the M20, and in the town of Dover itself.
Some drivers have already spent nearly a week stranded due to the diplomatic impasse.
Labour MP Barry Sheerman tweeted: “Thousands of truck drivers stranded in dire circumstances at Dover & the Prime Minister nor any member of his cabinet with the courage to pay them a visit on Christmas Day #ShameonYou”.
Army personnel had tested more than 6,200 drivers as of Christmas Day, while also being tasked with distributing food and water, the MoD said.
Traffic was moving smoothly through Dover on Friday, with French firefighters and the Polish military’s Territorial Defence Force also drafted in to help with testing.
Poland has codenamed its operation Zumbach, after the Polish Second World War pilot Jan Zumbach, who fought for the allies in the Battle of Britain, the country’s UK embassy said.
Germany’s ambassador to the UK, Andreas Michaelis, said some German hauliers had managed to make it home for Christmas, while others remained in Kent.
He tweeted: “Some of the German lorry drivers we’ve been in touch with are on their way home or at home already. Others sadly remain stuck.
“I sincerely hope things will start moving for them soon. This is a difficult Christmas. Our thoughts are with them.”
Various individuals and organisations have volunteered to help the stranded drivers by providing them with food and drink.
Mubashir Ahmad Siddiqi, 60, and his two 20-year-old sons Qasim and Hamza, from Barking in east London, spent six hours helping to prepare 1,000 portions of chicken biryani on Friday for those stuck in Kent.
Mr Siddiqi said: “Ten of us from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community and the Ahmadiyya Muslim youth association managed to drop off over 1,000 meals, 1,200 chocolate bars and drinks for the lorry drivers.”
He added: “It’s a great feeling to be able to help those who are alone at the moment and we hope that through our humble efforts we were able to cheer them up with the food packages.”
HM Coastguard said its teams in the Dover area had also delivered 3,000 hot meals, 600 pizzas, 2,985 packed lunches and 17 pallets of water to those waiting.
The MoD said 800 additional soldiers were deployed on Friday as part of Operation Rose to support the 300 personnel already there.