Unrest in Dover as stranded lorry drivers start getting coronavirus tests

Published: 23 December 2020

Post Desk : More scuffles have broken out in Dover this afternoon as lorry drivers stranded at the Kent port clashed with police, with one man lying down in front of a truck.

Around 5,000 lorries are stuck after France stopped them crossing due to the new variant of coronavirus in the UK.

It comes as the government said testing of the drivers had now begun.

Lorries have been lined up on the M20 motorway and at Manston airfield after the French government took action on Sunday night.

A group of drivers began heckling police just after 8am, before a few started pushing officers in an apparent attempt to break through their lines.

Sky’s Mark White, in Dover, said there had been minor “sporadic scuffles” throughout the morning, with one man later lying in front of a lorry and others beeping their horns in protest.

UK and French governments reached a deal to reopen the border from today – but lorry drivers must test negative for COVID before they can travel.

Around 170 soldiers and NHS teams are using quick turnaround tests on the hauliers, who come from across Europe and are desperate to get home.

The Department for Transport said testing had started by Wednesday afternoon – a claim disputed by some drivers.

A mobile testing station will be set up at the entrance to the port to try to stop people blocking the ferry terminal in frustration.

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They are protesting at what they say is a lack of facilities – such as toilets or food, as well as potentially losing their place in line for the ferry by having to go to Manston, the main testing location.

One man had been arrested for blocking the highway, said Kent Police, while a police car was also damaged during a disturbance at Manston.

The time it will take to clear the huge backlog is unclear.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has put it at “two or three days”, but also tweeted on Wednesday that “severe delays” were likely to continue and urged people to avoid the area.

Just over 5,000 lorries are currently waiting, according to the Department for Transport. That’s made up of 3,800 at Manston airfield 15 miles north of Dover, and more than 1,200 on the motorway.

But the Road Haulage Association estimates between 8,000 and 10,000 are stuck in Kent and surrounding areas.

Sky’s Mark White says there is a real sense of anger among the drivers and that some were attempting to stop any vehicles arriving from France.

“[They] say that if they can’t get in, they’re not letting vehicles out either,” says White.

“They really are incensed by what’s happening and don’t believe government assertions that there is a testing programme under way that would be effective.”

Rail, air and sea services to France are all resuming today after a deal was done on Tuesday evening following earlier talks between Boris Johnson and President Emmanuel Macron.
Anyone travelling must show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within the previous 72 hours.

Entry will only be granted to those travelling for urgent reasons, including lorry drivers, French citizens, and British citizens with French residency.

Mr Shapps said the French government had agreed to accept lateral flow tests, which can return results in around 30 minutes, in order to get traffic moving again.

He said enough tests had been sent to Kent for the number of drivers currently waiting.

Anyone who tests positive will be given a PCR test – which has a higher degree of accuracy – to confirm the result.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News that those returning a second positive test would be offered “COVID-secure” hotel accommodation, where they must isolate for 10 days.

He said he hoped the first hauliers would be able to cross the Channel again on Wednesday morning.

UK supermarkets have warned of shortages of some fresh fruit and vegetables if the disruption continues.

The deal with France will be reviewed on 31 December, but could run until 6 January.

France had denied the lorry drivers entry over concerns the variant identified in the UK could spread to the country.

The new variant spreads more easily and is believed to be up to 70% more transmissible.

Dozens of countries have imposed restrictions on travellers from the UK since Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last weekend that it had taken a foothold in southeast England.

Experts say cases have also been identified in other areas of the country.