However, it will be days before the thousands of trucks stranded on the UK side of the English Channel as all drivers are tested.
British Home Secretary Priti Patel Tweeted Wednesday that mass testing has begun and that “priority is getting trucks moving”. She urged people to avoid traveling to Kent because of heavy traffic jams, saying that an increase in travelers is now “going to slow things down”.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick estimated there were at least 4,000 trucks parked in the Kent area and said the military will manage test sites, including one at Manston Airport, where many of the trucks are located.
“It’s a significant number to work through. . . . I think it will take a couple of days, ”he told Sky News.
TV footage showed angry drivers shuffling with police and honking their horns in protest after being stranded for days, often far removed from the most basic hygiene facilities. Many now have the prospect of missing out on Christmas with their families.
In interviews with local television, truckers picket lines in the port city of Dover said there was no movement, no apparent testing and no facilities for them.
“What we have this morning are very, very angry truckers in Dover,” Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association told the BBC. “You are tired, frustrated and you really want to go home for Christmas.”
Kent Police Tweeted Wednesday that they responded to “riot in Dover and Manston this morning with people hoping to cross the Channel” and made an arrest.
On his morning television appearances, Jenrick also said there was no shortage of groceries in supermarkets and urged everyone to avoid panic buying. Many locations have reported empty supermarket shelves.
However, major UK supermarket chains Tesco and Sainsbury’s warned on Monday that if cargo doesn’t start moving soon, some fresh groceries may run out. Late Tuesday, Tesco announced the rationing of certain products in an email to customers, including toilet paper, rice, soap and eggs, to ensure there was enough for everyone.
The UK newspapers meanwhile had pictures of thousands of trucks lined up in Manston and it was reported that more of the country could be tougher lockdowns as early as Saturday to stop the virus from spreading. While Jenrick didn’t comment on plans, he told the BBC that the new variant was spreading and was a “game changer”.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s announcement on Sunday that a new mutant variant of the coronavirus could be even more contagious and “out of control” in the country prompted travel bans from much of Europe and dozen of countries abroad.
France was unique in banning cargo on one of Europe’s busiest travel corridors, a move Jenrick described Wednesday as “relatively unusual”.
British officials tightened restrictions in some regions and closed all non-essential businesses such as shops, restaurants, gyms and salons.
Amid the sudden forced isolation from the rest of the world – which arises as Britain tries to negotiate the terms of its future relationship with the European Union – much of the country is facing a tough new lockdown that coincides with Christmas and the ban on most gatherings.
With many European countries rushing to impose new rules on travelers from the UK, the European Commission on Tuesday called on member states to coordinate their response and lift flight, train and freight bans. ”
Some countries have already decided to push ahead with bans. Germany and Ireland have extended their bans, and Hungary has blocked passenger flights from the UK until February. On Wednesday, Singapore and the Philippines announced that they would also ban flights from the UK.
Belgium meanwhile said essential travelers from the UK are allowed to enter between December 23rd and January 1st. However, from December 25th, all non-residents must provide evidence of a negative PCR swab within 48 hours of arriving in Belgium.
The Netherlands has also relaxed its ban and required a negative PCR test for passengers from Great Britain or South Africa who were found to have a similar variant.
Siobhán O’Grady contributed to this report.