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THE Army arrived in Dover last night ahead of a huge operation to test 6,000 stranded lorry drivers as France reopens its borders today.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps yesterday announced that a deal had been struck allowing drivers to cross the border as long as they provided a negative Covid test.
The Telegraph reports that NHS Test and Trace mobile units, overseen by Army logistics experts, will roll out the tests to freight drivers to help bring an end to the chaos at the Port.
Staff wearing fluorescent jackets bearing the NHS Test and Trace logo arrived in the port town last night following a 230-mile journey from Doncaster.
But there are hopes that an agreement might finally break the gridlock which threatened to leave supermarkets short of certain foods.
“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.”
It remains unclear what type of Covid test drivers will need to take, after French President Emmanuel Macron insisted that PCR tests must be used.
These tests, while highly accurate, are expensive and can take up to 72 hours to process – potentially creating further delays.
It comes hours after the EU Commission issued a stinging rebuke to French president Emmanuel Macron today, saying his reaction to the new Covid strain has been over the top.
In a recommendation requested by all 27 European capitals it said rapid testing should be deployed at ports and airports as proposed by No 10.
It added: “Any prohibition of transport services, such as flight or train bans, should be discontinued.”
The recommendations are not legally binding on Member States, which retain ultimate control over their own border measures.
But they are designed to replace the patchwork of different restrictions capitals slapped on Britain in a panicked response to the mutant strain.
In a direct reference to France, the measures say testing of freight workers should “not lead to any transport disruptions”.
Mr Macron had initially pushed for the deployment at ports of PCR tests, which are more accurate but take 24 hours to process.
Eurocrats insisted “cargo flows need to continue uninterrupted, not least to ensure the timely distribution of COVID-19 vaccines”.
The Commission said all non-essential travel to and from the UK should be discouraged until further notice.
The military is currently working to get testing in Kent up and running, and is ready to deploy personnel to test drivers to help them cross into France.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said: “The MoD is working hard to identify where it can most effectively assist other government departments and civil authorities, including the situation in Dover.
“Since March, the military have been active on hundreds of tasks to help support the UK’s response to coronavirus, from driving ambulances to operating COVID-19 testing centres.
“The Armed Forces have personnel including specialist planners, medics and logisticians ready to assist with the response to the outbreak.”
A fellow driver delivering supplies to the lorry drivers yesterday told how hundreds of drivers had been left without water – while the only available toilet had been blocked.
Laszlo Baliga, 51, from London, who is a truck driver himself, spent the day delivering food and water to those lined up in the disused airfield.
He began taking supplies after Hungarian drivers stranded in the lorry park posted on Facebook asking for help, with one driver telling him the only toilet on the site had been blocked.
Mr Baliga said: “No water and no toilet now – there is one toilet, but it is now blocked.”
He and friends have so far spent more than £500 on food and water for drivers at the site.
One driver, who was turned back from Dover on Sunday night, called for immediate help from the Government over the lack of toilet and washing facilities for drivers.
Ronald Schroeder, 52, from Hamburg, Germany, said: “I am now staying in a hotel, but in front of the hotel there are thousands of people without any rooms waiting to come over the Channel crossing.
France slammed their borders closed on Sunday night because of the super-spreading mutation of coronavirus which caused London and the South East of England to be thrown into Tier 4 lockdown.
This morning, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps issued a plea to hauliers to avoid the jam-packed crossing.
He wrote on Twitter: “A reminder to all hauliers that the French have not re-opened the border to France.
“Please do not travel to Kent as you will be unable to cross and may become stuck for longer.”
A reminder to all hauliers that the French have not re-opened the border to France. Please do not travel to Kent as you will be unable to cross and may become stuck for longer.
Ministers are looking at plans to test every single driver trying to make their way to France in an attempt to ease the pressure on the crossing.
Ms Patel said this morning there more than 650 lorries piled up on the M20, and a further 873 which have been pulled into Manston airport to stop the roads being completely blocked by trucks.
It’s a massive jump from the 170 lorries Boris Johnson said were still stuck waiting to cross at Dover yesterday.
The Home Secretary told BBC Radio 4: “I think it’s important to recognise that the numbers fluctuate.”
But French President Emmanual Macron has demanded PCR tests be used rather than the rapid-result lateral flow tests, meaning it could be days before the trucks could start to move again.
“Discussions about the type of testing will be very much (underway), those types of discussions will take place between Transport Secretaries here and in Paris.
“It’s quite clear, we ask passengers to take tests before they get on airplanes, it’s quite clear that mass testing and testing is the way forward.
“So we will find pro-active and productive ways, which, if we have to introduce testing, to make sure that happens.”
The Home Secretary stressed fresh fruit was coming in through other routes across the UK as panicked retail bosses called for the blockade to be eased today.
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News – Army move in to Covid test 6,000 lorry drivers as France reopens borders