Hundreds of military personnel sent to Dover with thousands of stranded drivers spending Christmas Day in their lorries

Published: 25 December 2020

Post Desk : An extra 800 military personnel have been sent to help the thousands of lorry drivers spending Christmas Day still stranded at Dover.

The truckers were left waiting in Kent after France introduced travel restrictions on hauliers crossing the Channel following the emergence of a new mutated strain of coronavirus in the UK.

More than 700 hauliers have been cleared for departure since France reopened its border on Wednesday.

Some 1,100 troops have now been deployed as part of the operation to deal with the severe disruption at the English Channel border. Army personnel will be testing drivers for coronavirus and distributing food and water, the Ministry of Defence said.

Traffic was moving smoothly through the port on Friday morning, with French firefighters drafted in to help the military test drivers for coronavirus.

But around 5,000 truckers remain unable to get home despite some progress made in testing drivers holed up in their vehicles at nearby Manston Airport.

Some will have already spent nearly a week stranded due to the diplomatic impasse.

Footage of the port on Christmas Eve showed the truckers had used traffic cones to spell out the word “help”.

Southeastern Railway and Network Rail arranged for food to be delivered to lorry drivers stuck in Operation Brock on the M20.

Seven trains carrying crates of food for the hauliers have left London in the past 48 hours, with the Salvation Army distributing the items.

The MoD said additional soldiers had been deployed on Friday as part of Operation Rose to support the 300 personnel already there.

“We are deploying a further 800 personnel to Kent today to support an increase in the testing capabilities to help clear the backlog of vehicles and ensure traffic can begin to move at a closer to normal pace through Dover,” the MoD tweeted.

The Department for Transport said all but three of the 2,367 coronavirus tests issued to hauliers so far had been negative.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “We need to get the situation in Kent, caused by the French Government’s sudden imposition of Covid restrictions, resolved as soon as possible.

“I have today sent special instructions to the Army to take control of testing and HGV management operations in the county. Our aim is to get foreign hauliers home with their families as quickly as we can.

“I know it’s been hard for many drivers cooped up in their cabs at this precious time of year, but I assure them that we are doing our utmost to get them home.”

Mr Shapps added on Twitter that more than 10,000 coronavirus tests had been carried out and just 24 of the tests were positive.

France was accused of over-reacting to the new strain of Covid-19 after more than 2,000 lorry drivers waiting to leave the port returned negative test. Just three drivers had positive tests, said Mr Shapps.

The Government said catering vans would provide complementary hot food and drinks to stranded hauliers at Manston, with Kent Council and volunteer groups providing refreshments to those stuck on the M20.

There are more than 250 toilets at Manston, with a further 32 portable toilets added to existing facilities already along the M20.

A Port of Dover spokesman said ferry services had run throughout Christmas Eve night and would continue on Christmas Day to help ease congestion.

Traffic was moving more quickly at the Eurotunnel, with around 2,000 lorries expected to depart on Thursday.

Duncan Buchanan, a policy director at the Road Haulage Association, said: “The most reassuring thing is that food is getting through at Manston, and I have to say a big thank you to everyone who volunteered to help drivers stick it out in cold conditions in the days leading up to Christmas.”