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'Miserable conditions' at Manston Airport as drivers stuck with 'little food' as they wait for French to open port

"Few toilets" and "little food to eat" is what's facing thousands of lorry drivers in Kent today.

Manston airport is being used to park up to 4,000 lorries while the ban on the French borders ban on British traffic.

Richard Burnett, the chief executive of the RHA said: “Right now, HGV drivers caught up in this mess have limited access to toilet and washing facilities - the majority have none. Denying them even the most basic facilities is not only putting their health at risk, it’s exacerbating the very situation that it was supposed to prevent.

"For example, what will happen to those drivers who test positive? They will be unfit to drive but where will they go? They will be unable to quarantine with their families in Europe and what will happen to their vehicles? Who will be responsible for the deep cleaning of their cabs? And for those carrying return loads, what will happen to their cargo? This is going to be an extremely expensive exercise.”

"And for UK hauliers, already facing a very uncertain future? Delivering Christmas goods to Europe will have been a last ditch attempt to save their businesses. Right now, it looks as though Christmas 2020, for UK and EU truckers alike, is going to be far from happy."

The ban will be lifted at midnight tonight but details of the deal around testing has not been revealed yet.

A group of drivers argue with police on Townwall St. Picture Sam Lennon (43689422)
A group of drivers argue with police on Townwall St. Picture Sam Lennon (43689422)

A joint statement from the Government and Kent Resilience Forums said: “Food, toilets and water are available for hauliers along the M20 and at Manston, with more food trucks expected to arrive at Manston shortly.

“There are more than adequate health and welfare provisions available, with nearly 150 toilets and urinals at Manston and portable toilets every 1km on the M20 between junctions 10a and 11. Seventy additional toilets will arrive at Manston tomorrow morning.”

But it's not just in Thanet. Although Transport Minister Grant Shapps encouraged people "not to travel to Kent" lorries are at a standstill in Dover

Sources told KentOnline of fears that lorry drivers don't want to be put back to the back of a queue of 3,000 lorries incase the port suddenly opens.

They're heading to Dover in hope of being at the front which is causing gridlock in the town.

Our reporter at the scene said: "They're queuing back further than I can see on the A20. A few are being allowed in to the port.

"Drivers are arguing with police. It's definitely tense but there's no violence or vandalism that I can see.

"They're angry and frustrated at the situation."

A Romanian car passenger, stuck in the days of chaos, who did not want to be identified, said: "Some people have been blocking the road in protest.

" We have been here for days. It's not right. There are children in some of these cars and people want to go home for Christmas."

The community has rallied to help them with - 800 curries being delivered this afternoon - but there is only so much they can do to help.

Lorries were diverted away from the port and off the M20 to Thanet last night.

The site had been on standby for overflow lorry parking in the event of a no-deal Brexit and haulage chaos.

But it has come into emergency use after the French authorities closed their ports to British freight and passenger traffic when it was revealed that a new strain of coronavirus was running "out of control" in the UK.

As a result, Operation Stack has led to huge tailbacks of lorries on the routes to Dover and Folkestone, leading to 900 lorries parked up on the M20 last night.

And now Operation Fennel has been implemented after a special development order was approved by the government to allow lorries to park at Manston for 48 hours.

Frantic talks between the French and British government are underway to discuss the lifting of the travel ban so traffic movement can resume.

One of the discussions is around the coronavirus testing of drivers entering France.

Lorries at Manston Picture: UKNIP
Lorries at Manston Picture: UKNIP
Refreshments for driver at Manston Picture: UKNIP
Refreshments for driver at Manston Picture: UKNIP

Some are suggesting the existing Covid-19 testing site at Manston should be put to use.

Margate and Cliftonville county councillor Barry Lewis (Lab), said: "If we've got hundreds of lorry drivers stuck at Manston airport doing nothing, why don't the authorities use that time to do flow testing?

Graham Pask from the Road Haulage Association is calling for Covid-19 testing drivers at Manston

"You've got half of Manston being used as a lorry park and the other half being used for coronavirus testing, it would suggest to me you put the two together and solve the problem."

Graham Pask from the Road Haulage Association also believes negative Covid-19 tests could help convince France to reopen the border sooner and allow hauliers through.

Lorries at Manston Picture: UKNIP
Lorries at Manston Picture: UKNIP

He said: "We seem to be waiting for instruction from France as to how they can solve this, but I think we should pre-empt this by starting to test these drivers and give them Covid tests.

"The facility at Manston already has a current Covid testing site, albeit for UK nationals.

"Hopefully within a certain reasonable period of time those tests can be proven to the French authorities and we can start getting these guys repatriated."

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