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Covid border chaos: Thousands of coronavirus tests carried out on lorry drivers stuck in Kent

More than 10,000 coronavirus tests have now been carried out on lorry drivers stranded in Kent, with more than 4,500 lorries making it back over the Channel.

The Transport Secretary confirmed only 24 truckers stuck on the M20 and in Manston Airport have tested positive.

French firefighters have been deployed to assist in testing at Dover (Aaron Chown/PA)
French firefighters have been deployed to assist in testing at Dover (Aaron Chown/PA)

Grant Shapps tweeted this afternoon: "Update on Kent lorry situation: Over 10,000 #Coronavirus tests now carried out. Just 24 positive (0.24%).

"A huge thank you for the tireless efforts of our troops, police, civilian testers, council planners & port & ferry workers for giving up their Xmas to get people home."

He took to Twitter this evening to add: "Thanks to all the hauliers in #Kent for their patience & to everyone on the ground working tirelessly to help after the French border was suddenly closed.

"Over 10,000 tests have taken place and over 4,500 HGVs are back over the Channel."

Some 1,100 troops have been drafted in to get them home as they spend Christmas Day stranded in the county.

They are joined by 30 French firefighters and 60 Polish soldiers and are testing lorry drivers from across Europe for coronavirus.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed an extra 800 personnel will join 300 already at the port today.

Adding: "While significant progress has been made, with hundreds of vehicles already departing the UK, there is a need for increased testing as more vehicles continue to arrive every hour."

Ante Kostelac is one driver stuck at Manston and tweeted: "Hello France! Don't worry, we're parked at the airport Manston. Our families, wives, children, parents, they don’t need us. We haven't been together all year, you're right, why should we be together now...."

He added: "At this time when everyone should be with their families, you have decided to play political games, separate thousands of families, show us, truck drivers, what you think of us, how much you care about us.

"In case you forgot, earlier this year, in the spring, during the biggest pandemic, you thanked us, applauded, called us heroes. Still, that was the biggest lie, you only thought of yourself.

"Don't worry, I don't wish you all the worst, in fact I wish you a Merry Christmas and all the best, and I will, just as you think, spend Christmas like a dog, in a cabin, alone, a thousand miles away from my family. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! Greetings and stay well!"

Testing takes place at the Port of Dover
Testing takes place at the Port of Dover

Last night 2,300 had tested negative while three were positive and have to isolate in hotels.

Despite the travel ban - imposed by French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday after news a new Covid-19 strain was "out of control" - being lifted nearly three days ago, it's been challenging to get the backlog cleared.

By yesterday afternoon ferry company DFDS had only been able to take 144 lorries home since the border reopened despite having capacity for 4,000.

At least 6,000 HGVs were stranded in Kent at one point and while some have since left, hundreds of drivers faced days at Manston Airport.

DFDS says logistical issues hampered efforts to repatriate stranded truckers - and was calling for staff to work on Christmas Day after the traditional port closure was lifted.

Police hold back drivers trying to enter the Port of Dover in Kent earlier this week. Picture: PA
Police hold back drivers trying to enter the Port of Dover in Kent earlier this week. Picture: PA

It's expected clearing the remaining HGVs will take days.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced the border will stay open throughout the festive period.

He tweeted yesterday: "As testing in Kent continues (latest figures & outcomes soon) I've spoken to my French counterpart @Djebbari_JB & we've agreed the UK/French border at Eurotunnel, Dover & Calais WILL remain open throughout Xmas in order to help hauliers & citizens return home as soon as possible."

Elsewhere villagers were lowering bags of food and Domino's delivered more than 1,000 pizzas to the drivers stranded on the M20, while the clean up began in Dover.

In Ashford, residents responded to a plea on Facebook from a German driver who desperately wanted a shower by organising for truckers to use a nearby Holiday Inn.

Food is passed to lorry drivers stranded at Manston Airport
Food is passed to lorry drivers stranded at Manston Airport

The M20 was closed for more parking.

The motorway remains shut in both direction to allow for Operation Stack - essentially a holding pen - between 8 (for Leeds Castle and 9 for Ashford) and all the way from 8 (for Leeds Castle) to 13 (for Folkestone) on the coast bound section.

This is in addition to the 4,000 capacity (revised down to 3,800 to allow for testing) at Manston.

On Tuesday morning scuffles broke out at Dover between police and frustrated drivers who, having been stranded at the port for days, were seeing other lorries coming from Manston.

Those in Dover were being tested in their vehicles in an attempt to clear the gridlock - although drivers were still being told to head to Manston, with others being diverted to a centre on Sheppey.

Lorries on M20 earlier this week
Lorries on M20 earlier this week

The first few cars and lorries were seen heading for a ferry after receiving a negative Covid test at around 6pm. There were reports this seemed to stop at around 9pm and that tension was starting to flare again.

There were also stand-offs at Manston as drivers attempted to leave and others enter. Later in the day an army of people arrived to get food and drink to the drivers.

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".

Talks between the French and the UK governments came to an end on Tuesday evening and the ban was lifted that night.

All drivers, irrespective of nationality, 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.

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 after the deal was made with the French: "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 them to get through quickly.

Throughout the week lorry drivers have been offered pizza, curry and other support from local people.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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