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Covid border chaos: Lorry drivers clash with police at Dover as testing takes place at Manston


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Lorry drivers have clashed with police and blockaded the Port of Dover as tensions over testing soar.

One man has been arrested and another was photographed being dragged from the road after lying down in front of a lorry which was trying to leave.

Video footage shows scuffles breaking out and driver blockading the port

Many have been stranded at the port town since Sunday when the border was closed due to fears over the "out of control" new coronavirus strain.

The ban was lifted last night but drivers must test negative at a huge pop up testing site at Manston Airport , which is now full, before they make the trip.

There were no facilities at Dover, which is now completely gridlocked, to conduct tests and with at least 5,000 drivers in Kent those sat yards from the port are being told they must go to Manston.

There is now a mobile unit but testing is yet to start.

Police remove a man who lay in front of a lorry Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA
Police remove a man who lay in front of a lorry Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA

This is causing frustration and drivers have blockaded the port's exit with their vehicles and a human chain, meaning UK-bound freight is stuck. One man has been arrested.

MP Natalie Elphicke (Con) said: “It is welcome news that the French have re-opened the border. But they shouldn’t have shut it in the first place. France’s actions have caused unnecessary and unacceptable levels of widespread disruption to Dover and the surrounding area. It will take some days to unwind and sort out the disruption caused by the French. Local residents are rightly very angry about this and the impact on the town.

Graham Pask from the Road Haulage Association called the situation a "humanitarian crisis" and compared the French government to a "dictatorship" "holding lorry drivers hostage".

“Setting up a testing capability of this scale from a standing start is a massive task. All the more so as lorries are scattered all over the area. However, testing is now underway, and that must include mobile testing units in Dover town itself so that the traffic starts to clear from the town. As well as a clear-up operation to deal with the littering and human waste on our streets and pathways.”

It is understood a mobile testing facility will now be set up at an entrance to the port.

Reacting to social media claims that McDonald's in Minster had been smashed up by drivers, restaurant manager Alistair Moffat told KentOnline: "We've had no trouble. They've been as good as gold.

"They've had food from us and used the toilets. We've had no problem at all with them."

The neighbouring Co-op petrol station said it temporarily closed its pumps and stopped selling alcohol after seeing lorry drivers throwing cones in the road.

As soon as the ban was lifted at 7am all port approach roads were snarled up and immediate domestic roads were jammed too.

Parked truckers were either resting in their cabs or some were walking to the port to check for updates.

They are being told they won't get a test at Dover and have to go to Manston.

Lorries are making their way down Jubilee Way, met by police and waved into Dover's Eastern Docks.

It is causing frustrations, either verbal altercations with officers or honking of horns, where others have for days been within a stone's throw of the port.

Today is crew change day for many of the ferries, meaning hundreds of crew will be making their way to the port. Although workers' cars are being waved through, it's likely frustrations will intensify as the day goes on if testing is not performed at Dover.

Drivers speak to police at Manston
Drivers speak to police at Manston

Roads around Manston are also gridlocked as huge crowds of angry lorry drivers block the main carriageway in protest at not being able to leave.

As many as 100 have stopped traffic on Hengist Way and are singing and chanting, causing huge queues back towards Minster.

It is understood they are frustrated at being held on the site because Dover is backed up with lorries.

One told our reporter: "We're not allowed off, we're not allowed off. We have to protest."

Police at the scene said they were expecting more patrols to arrive to remove the drivers.

Police and lorry drivers face off at Manston
Police and lorry drivers face off at Manston

At the same time, more lorries are still arriving at the makeshift truck park, which has capacity for 4,000, likely in the hope of accessing a coronavirus test - their golden ticket into France.

Queues of cars interspersed with lorries line the Hengist Way, with people standing outside of their vehicles.

Our reporter witnessed some motorists removing cones and performing U-turns on the pavement to avoid the standstill, but a police presence is now acting as a suitable deterrent.

One Polish driver at the protest said the truckers were from all across Europe and angry at not being able to leave the site.

"[We have] no shower, food is only hamburger and chips; not a banana, or an orange, just a hamburger," he said.

"I have no information, zero information. I have 1,400km to go to my home. It's Christmas time!

"I had a delivery from Poland to Dover. This is food for your homes this Christmas.

"But we must wait, wait, wait, and wait, with no test."

Thanet county councillor Barry Lewis (Lab), of Margate, says the scenes at Manston and Dover were "anarchy".

Cllr Lewis said: "The people of east Kent are paying the penalty for the lack of preparation by the Government, which has brought anarchy to the local area.

"The concerns were raised at many Kent County Council (KCC) meetings and we were told it will be alright on the night, even though local councillors, including myself, were worried about the traffic chaos around Dover and Manston."

Elsewhere drivers were turned away from walk-in centres as the scramble to cross the Channel continued.

A driver speaks to KentOnline

Eurotunnel tweeted to inform passengers no Covid testing facility was available at the port.

"Please ensure you meet the French Government’s criteria before travelling to our terminal: ow.ly/7PtW30rpNmo

"There is no COVID-19 testing facility at Eurotunnel.

"Go to our website to book or amend tickets. PLEASE DO NOT ARRIVE WITHOUT A BOOKING AS WE ARE FULLY BOOKED."

Talks between the French and the UK governments came to an end yesterday and the French Transport Minsiter confirmed last night that the ban would be lifted at midnight.

A mass testing programme of lorry drivers has started and will be over seen by army logistic experts.

All lorry drivers, irrespective of nationality, will require a lateral flow test. This can detect the new strain of Covid-19 and provide results in around 30 minutes, rather than the 24 hours required after a PCR test.

The French government will also carry out sample testing on incoming freight to the UK.

This morning communities secretary Robert Jenrick confirmed it would take "a couple of days" to clear the backlog and drivers should still avoid heading to Kent.

The huge number of lorries parked up at the former Manston Airport site Pic: Swift Aerial Photography
The huge number of lorries parked up at the former Manston Airport site Pic: Swift Aerial Photography

If drivers test positive they must isolate in hotels, the initial cost of which will be picked up by the government.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said last night: "I am pleased that we have made this important progress with our French counterparts this evening. This protocol will see the French border reopen to those travelling for urgent reasons, provided they have a certified negative Covid test.

"We continue to urge hauliers not to travel to Kent until further notice as we work to alleviate congestion."

Rules for drivers will be temporarily relaxed to allow drivers to get through quickly.

Lorries head for Manston

DFDS confirmed it had the capacity to carry 4,000 freight vehicles by Christmas Day and were ready to go as soon as they could.

A spokesman said: "Freight drivers and passengers are required to produce a negative Covid-19 test result upon departure in UK and upon arrival in France that has been conducted within 72 hours of travel.

"Without a negative test freight drivers and passengers will be denied boarding and should not come to the port.

"Please note only EU citizens returning home and those travelling for essential reasons are able to travel.

"If you already have a booking from UK to France from midnight tonight 22nd December onwards, please ensure you have a negative test result before setting off. Please do not come to the ports of Dover or Newhaven if you do not have a booking and a negative Covid test."

The entrance to the Port of Dover Picture: Barry Goodwin
The entrance to the Port of Dover Picture: Barry Goodwin

It's a welcome relief to lorry drivers who, despite being offered pizza,curry and other support from local people, have had a frustrating week.

Last night some drivers, who gave up queueing for Manston in the hope of getting on the ferries first, were seen arguing with police as tensions began to flare.

The Road Haulier association said drivers in Thanet had a 'miserable existence' as facilities were not in place to help them.

Kent Police confirmed it received reports of disturbances involving individuals in both Dover and at the DfT-run lorry holding facility at Manston who are hoping to cross the Channel.

One man has been arrested for obstructing a highway in Dover and remains in custody.

A spokesman added: "Officers on the ground at both locations are working with partner agencies to make sure those hoping to travel to the continent adhere to the latest government travel requirements regarding Covid testing.

"Kent Police continues to work with partner agencies to make sure those hoping to cross the Channel are informed of the latest procedures and requirements."

Additional reporting by Gerry Warren

Read more: All the latest news from Kent.

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