Britain’s supermarket shelves may soon stand empty as France‘s coronavirus ban on British lorries is set to stop Continental hauliers bringing in vital festive food supplies, industry bosses have warned.
The Port of Dover closed to all freight vehicles leaving the UK for the next 48 hours after France imposed an inbound travel ban following the mutant Covid-19 strain which plunged London and the South East into Tier Four.
Hauliers coming to Britain from France will still be allowed in but there are fears that lorry drivers will not travel to avoid being ‘marooned’ in the UK.
Boris Johnson will hold crisis talks with ministers after France banned lorries carrying freight from the UK and countries around the world ended flights amid fears over the new mutant coronavirus strain.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold crisis talks with Ministers today as he chairs the Government’s Cobra civil contingencies committee amid warnings of ‘significant disruption’ around the Channel ports in Kent.
Kent Police implemented Operation Stack to ease congestion, while the Department for Transport said Manston Airport was also being prepared as another contingency measure against the anticipated level of disruption.
Countries including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, and Bulgaria announced restrictions on UK travel following the outbreak of the new strain across South East England.
It comes as:
- The Food and Drink Federation warned of ‘serious disruption to UK Christmas fresh food supplies and exports’
- Italy said the mutant strain had been detected in a traveller who recently returned to the country from the UK
- The British Retail Consortium warned closure of France to UK traffic would create ‘difficulties’ for UK trade
- Nicola Sturgeon said it was ‘imperative’ the UK Government sought an extension to Brexit transition period
- Ireland has imposed a 48-hour ban on flights from Britain while ferries would be restricted to freight only
- Heathrow Airport descended into chaos as hundreds of passengers scrambled onto the last flight to Dublin
- Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted the new Tier 4 restrictions may have to remain in place for months
- The UK reported a further 35,928 cases yesterday as the mutant strain caused a 94.8% rise in infections.
Opearation Stack was being implemented on the M20 in Kent last night – when parts of the motorway are set aside to park lorries queuing for Channel ports
The Port of Dover closed to all accompanied traffic leaving the UK for the next 48 hours after France imposed an inbound travel ban. Pictured: Lorries queue on the M20 in Folkestone
The French Government joined a number of other European nations in banning inbound flights from the UK. Pictured: Passengers at King’s Cross St.Pancras train station queue to board trains to Paris in London
Meanwhile, Eurotunnel tweeted that its last shuttle service departing for France would leave at 9.34pm, with access to its UK site prohibited from 10pm. Pictured: Staff board the last scheduled Eurostar train from London to Paris
Food and Drink Federation chief executive Ian Wright said: ‘Tonight’s suspension of accompanied freight traffic from the UK to France has the potential to cause serious disruption to UK Christmas fresh food supplies and exports of UK food and drink.
‘Continental truckers will not want to travel here if they have a real fear of getting marooned. The Government must very urgently persuade the French government to exempt accompanied freight from its ban.’
The worst Noël… and the agony is set to last for months: Matt Hancock issues grim warning on lockdown that’s hit 16m and could spread further across the country as Boris prepares to lead another Cobra meeting tomorrow
Health Secretary Matt Hancock in London yesterday
Millions of families face living under Tier Four restrictions for months, Matt Hancock has warned.
Warning that the draconian lockdown could be extended nationwide, the Health Secretary said coronavirus was now ‘out of control’ following the emergence of a fast-spreading new variant.
Boris Johnson imposed a tough new round of restrictions on London and much of the South East on Saturday, effectively plunging more than 16million people into lockdown.
Shops, gyms, hairdressers and beauty salons have been ordered to shut again, with residents told not to leave Tier Four.
In his embarrassing U-turn, the Prime Minister also slashed a Christmas amnesty from five days to just one and cancelled get-togethers completely in Tier Four. Three days earlier he had said it would be ‘inhuman’ to do so.
It comes ahead of Cobra meeting set to be chaired by the prime minister later today, after a series of countries announced they were stopping flights from the UK.
Mr Hancock acknowledged yesterday that many were angry with the Government for forcing families to cancel their Christmas plans.
But he said the new variant posed ‘an enormous challenge, until we can get the vaccine rolled out to protect people. This is what we face over the next couple of months’.
It comes as experts on Nervtag (New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group) warn the new strain of Covid-19 ‘does look significantly better at spreading’.
Warning Tier 4 measures could be extended, Peter Openshaw of Imperial College London, a member of Nervtag, told The Times: ‘It’s very unlikely anything less than really effective measures are going to control it.
‘My concern is people are not going to comply. It’s really important people appreciate the danger.’
The Health Secretary suggested other parts of the country would also be plunged into Tier Four if a significant number of cases of the mutant virus emerged.
One senior Conservative MP called for Mr Hancock to resign over the shambolic handling of the Christmas rules.
And furious Tories demanded a recall of Parliament to debate and vote on the changes to pandemic laws, which were made unilaterally by Mr Hancock in the early hours of yesterday.
Covid cases hit a daily record of 35,928 yesterday – almost double the previous week. There were also 326 deaths, up from 144 a week earlier.
Italian authorities announced the mutant strain had been detected in a traveller who recently returned to the country from the UK.
With France suspending all traffic from the UK for 48 hours, it raised fears that trade flows could be severely disrupted while passengers across Europe could be left stranded in the final run-up to Christmas.
A No 10 spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister will chair a Cobra meeting tomorrow to discuss the situation regarding international travel, in particular the steady flow of freight into and out of the UK.
‘Further meetings are happening this evening and tomorrow morning to ensure robust plans are in place.’
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urged people including hauliers to stay away from the area around the Channel ports.
‘We expect significant disruption in the area. My department is urgently working with Highways England and Kent Council on contingency measures to minimise traffic disruption in the area,’ he said.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) warned the closure of France to UK traffic would create ‘difficulties’ for UK imports and exports in the busy Christmas period.
Andrew Opie, the BRC’s director of food and sustainability, said any ‘prolonged’ disruption would be a problem in the run-up to the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.
‘While goods can enter from France, few haulage firms will be willing to send trucks and drivers across to the UK without a guarantee they can return to the EU in a timely manner,’ he said.
‘This is a key supply route for fresh produce at this time of year.
‘We urge the UK Government and the EU to find a pragmatic solution to this as soon as possible, to prevent disruption for consumers.
‘Retailers have stocked up on goods ahead of Christmas which should prevent immediate problems.
‘However, any prolonged closure of the French border would be a problem as the UK enters the final weeks before the transition ends on December 31.’
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was ‘imperative’ the UK Government sought an extension to the Brexit transition period.
‘The new Covid strain – and the various implications of it – means we face a profoundly serious situation, and it demands our 100 per cent attention,’ she said. ‘It would be unconscionable to compound it with Brexit.’
Germany, which holds the rotating EU presidency, announced it was calling emergency talks on Monday to co-ordinate the response of the bloc’s 27 member states.
It came after the Irish government said it was imposing a 48-hour ban on flights from Britain while ferries would be restricted to freight only.
The Netherlands said it will stop flights from the UK at least until the end of the year while Belgium has imposed a 24-hour ban on flights and rail links while it assesses the situation.
Italy is prohibiting entry to the country by anyone who has been in the UK in the last 14 days and flights are banned until January 6 while Austria, the Czech Republic, El Salvador, Turkey and Canada also imposed new restrictions.
Countries reacted after Mr Johnson announced on Saturday that the new variant was up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the original strain as he put London and parts of the South East and East of England into a two-week Christmas lockdown, with nearly 18 million people in a new Tier 4.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted the new variant coronavirus was ‘out of control’ and said the new restrictions may have to remain in place for months.
Concerns about the rapid spread of the disease were underlined with the publication of the latest official figures showing there had been a further 35,928 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK as of 9am on Sunday.
Millions of people have been forced to tear up their festive plans, with Mr Johnson effectively cancelling Christmas for those in Tier 4.
In the rest of England, Christmas easing is severely curtailed, with households allowed to gather for just one day – Christmas Day itself – rather than the five days previously planned, while Scotland and Wales are also restricting Christmas ‘bubbles’ to a single day.
The Port of Dover tweeted on Sunday night that its ferry terminal was ‘closed to all accompanied traffic leaving the UK until further notice due to border restrictions in France.’ Pictured: Freight in Folkestone line up before boarding the Channel Tunnel
Lorries queue for The Port of Dover along the A20 in Kent as the Dover TAP (Traffic Access Protocol) was implemented earlier this week
Lorries queue to enter The Port of Dover on Friday as the clock ticks down on the chance for the UK to strike a Brexit trade deal
Lorries wait outside The Port of Dover along the A20 in Kent amid high volumes of freight traffic on Friday
Lorries queue at Dover on Friday as the UK tries to strike a deal before the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31
And at an emergency meeting late on Sunday night, the Northern Ireland Executive agreed to reduce the five day Christmas bubbling arrangements to just one day.
Heathrow chaos as hundreds try to cram onto last plane to Dublin after more than a dozen countries ban ALL flights from Britain, Eurotunnel closes and French BLOCK UK lorries for 48 hours after discovery of ‘70% more infectious’ mutant Covid strain
London’s Heathrow Airport was pictured descending into chaos last night as hundreds of passengers scrambled onto the last flight to Dublin minutes before a Covid-19 travel ban set in at midnight to nations across Europe including Ireland.
Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee today after more than a dozen countries – initially in Europe and then around the world – announced they were stopping flights from the UK, following the discovery of the ’70 per cent more infectious’ mutant coronavirus strain which plunged London and the south east into Tier Four.
Huge queues were seen at London Heathrow Airport last night
France joined Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Finland and Denmark in banning all flights carrying passengers from the UK into Europe for at least a 48 hour period, with some suspending flights into the New Year, while assessing the new strain.
Israel, Turkey, Morocco, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and El Salvador later followed suit, while pressure was last night mounting on the United States to take action after Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said Canada was putting a 72-hour stop on travel from the UK.
Crowds of people had packed into Heathrow Terminal 5 to await updates of a reportedly overbooked British Airways flight, operated by Aer Lingus, which was scheduled to take off at 8.55pm to Dublin.
Passenger Rachael Scully, 23, tweeted that the Irish Government eventually gave the ‘green light’ for the flight which was set to leave at 10:30pm and due to land with 15 minutes to spare before the travel ban at midnight.
She wrote: ‘Irish gov have given the green light and we’ve been processed for a BA flight. Due to land at 23:45. Woops of joy once the news got out. A Christmas miracle! [sic]’
Ireland announced its temporary 48-hour travel ban on non-essential flights from Britain which came into force at midnight and includes passengers on flights and ferries.
A British Airways spokesman told MailOnline: ‘Our teams looked after customers while we urgently looked into alternative arrangements to get them on their way to Dublin as quickly as possible.’
However some Irish people tweeted the stranded Heathrow passengers to urge them to stay put following the discovery of the ’70 per cent more infectious’ mutant coronavirus strain which plunged London and the south east into Tier Four.
One commented: ‘With all due respect guys, you are traveling from one of highest infected regions with a more infectious strain of #Covid_19..You guys run the risk of bringing it to #Ireland. Please consider staying put. It’s hard I know.’
Another wrote: ‘Pls rethink your plans. You risk bringing a more contagious strain of covid to Ireland. Elderly and vulnerable people are literally spending Xmas alone, inside afraid of seeing their families. Don’t be selfish, flights from the UK to here are now being stopped for good reason [sic].’
Ministers also debated a temporary ban on travel from Great Britain to Northern Ireland because of the new Covid variant, with further discussions expected on Monday.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, said: ‘This sharp and sudden increase is of serious concern.’
She said most of the new cases were concentrated in London and the South East – where the new strain is thought to have originated – although it was too soon to say if they were linked to it.
Last night the Department for Transport said Manston Airport was being prepared to to accommodate ‘up to 4000 lorries’ as a measure to ease congestion in Kent in the wake of the France travel ban and warned hauliers to avoid travel to Kent ports ‘until further notice’.
Kent Police implemented Operation Stack, when parts of the M20 are set aside to queue lorries headed for the Continent.
It comes after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urged hauliers to avoid travelling to Kent ports as the closure of the France-UK border is expected to trigger ‘significant disruption’.
The French Government joined a number of other European nations in banning inbound flights from the UK in a bid to prevent the spread of a coronavirus mutation sweeping through London and the south east of England.
Mr Shapps tweeted last night: ‘Following the French Government’s announcement it will not accept any passengers arriving from the UK for the next 48hrs, we’re asking the public & particularly hauliers not to travel to Kent ports or other routes to France.
‘We expect significant disruption in the area. My department is urgently working with Highways England and Kent Council on contingency measures to minimise traffic disruption in the area. We will share more details on these shortly.’
Earlier, French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari confirmed the country was suspending all traffic from the UK from midnight for at least 48 hours.
The Port of Dover tweeted on Sunday night that its ferry terminal was ‘closed to all accompanied traffic leaving the UK until further notice due to border restrictions in France’.
On its website it said: ‘Both accompanied freight and passenger customers are asked not to travel to the Port. We understand that the restrictions will be in place for 48 hours from midnight (CET).
‘We apologise for the inconvenience and will provide an update as soon as possible.’
It added: ‘Port of Dover Cargo Terminal, Marina and other areas of the Port remain open.’
Meanwhile, Eurotunnel tweeted that its last shuttle service departing for France would leave at 9.34pm yesterday, with access to its UK site prohibited from 10pm.
Rod McKenzie, from the Road Haulage Association, told Sky News that 10,000 lorries a day crossed between Dover and Calais in France.
He added: ‘Brexit stockpiling is one thing, the Christmas rush is another thing, but the absolute hammer blow now is to close the borders for 48 hours.
‘That is a serious disruption of the all important supply chain.’
Logistics UK, formerly the Freight Transport Association, which is based in Tunbridge Wells, tweeted: ‘Logistics UK is aware of news that accompanied freight to France is being not allowed for 48 hours; we are concerned about the welfare of drivers and we are urgently seeking more information for our members.’
Tory Kent MP Sir Roger Gale urged No 10 and Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to ‘get a grip’ on the developing situation with the Britain-France border.
He tweeted: ‘Cross Channel travel chaos. Don’t try to blame the Transport Department. Time for Number Ten and ‘CDL’ to get a grip.’
Cold Chain Federation chief executive Shane Brennan said: ‘Whilst we face no shortages now, we do need urgent agreements between the UK and EU Governments to find a way to safely allow freight movements to continue. This has been possible at every other stage through the pandemic. An extended period of stopped movement now will cause significant problems for supply chains in January.’
The Belgian government also announced its borders with the UK will close at midnight on Sunday.
The Eurostar rail service said on its website yesterday evening that due to the French and Belgian border closures it was unable to run any trains from London to Paris, Brussels, Lille or Amsterdam on Monday or Tuesday.
Services from Amsterdam, Brussels and Lille to London would also not run on these days, but trains from Paris to London continue to operate.
The rail company said it planned to resume all services to and from the UK on Wednesday and was awaiting further details from relevant governments on how travel restrictions will be enforced.
It comes after queues at Dover reached 20 miles last week with long traffic jams in Calais as thousands of lorries – many full of Christmas gifts and food – tried to cross the Channel amid chaos at Britain’s container ports.
Extraordinary photographs taken from above the M20 in Kent last Friday showed how vehicles were bumper-to-bumper amid claims businesses are stockpiling in case of a No Deal Brexit at the end of the month.
And across the water in France, in Calais trucks lined dual carriageways for miles as they tried to get a ferry to Dover or the Channel Tunnel to Folkestone ahead of the busiest shopping week of the year.
Retailers say items they ordered in August for Christmas have still not arrived in Britain because of shipping chaos caused by Covid-19 in China and problems unloading in the UK seeing containers dumped in Zeebrugge, Belgium.
UK firms are haemorrhaging £1million or more because shipments have been delayed and quadrupled in price with the cost of moving a container from Qingdao, China, to the UK now at £7,500 per load – up from £2,000.