No Christmas Eve joy for truckers stuck in UK virus gridlock


CALAIS, France (AP) – Trucks inched slowly past checkpoints in Dover and headed across the Channel to Calais on Thursday after France partially reopened its borders following a scare over a rapidly spreading new virus variant – but most drivers remained trapped in mass gridlock on Christmas Eve.

One by one, trucks passed toward ferries and trains that link Britain with France, as authorities checked that drivers had the negative virus tests now required to cross. On the French side, powerful winds buffeted the coast before dawn broke, and the vast Calais port – which normally takes in up to 4,000 trucks a day – remained quieter than usual amid testing challenges on the U.K. side.

Officials warned the backlog could take days to clear. One U.K. road haulage expert estimated there could be 8,000 to 10,000 trucks caught up in the chaos near Dover in England, waiting to enter France.

Nations around the world began barring people from Britain over the weekend after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that scientists said a new version of the virus whipping around London and England’s southeast may be more contagious.

The announcement added to anxieties at a time when Europe has been walloped by soaring new virus infections and deaths. Europe as a whole has recorded over 500,000 virus-related deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts agree is probably an undercount due to missed cases and other factors.

But France’s move was the most dramatic and raised the most concern, since France is a major conduit for trade and travel between Britain and the continent. It led to a feeling of intense isolation on the island nation, since the U.K. relies heavily on its cross-Channel commercial links to the continent for food at this time of year, especially fresh fruit and vegetables.

France defended its handling of the border situation after the EU’s transport commissioner issued unusually strong public criticism.

Commissioner Adina Valean, of Romania, tweeted: “I deplore that France went against our recommendations and brought us back to the situation we were in in March when the supply chains were interrupted.”

France’s secretary of state for European affairs, Clement Beaune, tweeted back that France had “exactly followed the EU recommendation” and is now “more open than other European countries” to arrivals from Britain.

Some European countries relaxed their travel limits on Britain on Wednesday, though many remain in place.

Fears of food shortages added to an already glum runup to Christmas in Britain, where authorities have scaled back or canceled plans to relax restrictions for the holiday as daily virus infections soar and many hospitals are nearing capacity.

China on Thursday became the latest nation to suspend flights to and from the U.K.


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