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Covid border chaos: Third day of traffic as lorries start to head to Calais after France opens borders to people with negative coronavirus test


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The London bound carriageway of the M20 is being used to park more lorries.

Manston reached full capacity earlier today and Operation Brock is in place. But now phase 3 of Operation Stack is being used to park even more HGVs.

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

Down in Dover, around two hours after testing started the first few vehicles were seen heading for the ferries and on their way to France. Just after 8.30pm this seemed to come to a stop.

With such a huge backlog of more than 4,000 lorries to clear, highways bosses have announced more disruption to Kent's roads.

Chief Executive of Maidstone Borough Council Alison Broom said: “We realise that this has been a very difficult time for our residents and the issues on the M20 have impacted our communities, but we are asking them to not make journeys unless it is absolutely necessary tonight.

“The A20 and M20 are two very busy and vital routes through the borough of Maidstone so it is imperative that we get the motorway clear as quickly as possible whilst at the same time supporting the lorry drivers who have been waiting there to be able to travel through the Port of Dover or Eurotunnel.

“Please think about if you really need to make that journey tonight as if you don’t you will be avoiding what could be potentially long delays and helping to keep our roads clear for essential traffic including the emergency services.”

Earlier today, religious leaders called on the government to "intervene decisively" in Dover as the town remains gridlocked.

Testing has started in Dover. Picture: Sam Lennon (43709148)
Testing has started in Dover. Picture: Sam Lennon (43709148)

In a joint statement today, the Archbishop and the Bishops of chester, Dover and Tonbridge and said: "As Anglican leaders in Kent, we are dismayed by the situation in Dover. We recognise the need to take urgent precautions to slow the spread of the new strain of coronavirus. But to leave seasonal workers, families and some truck drivers without adequate food and sanitary facilities is unacceptable - both for those stranded and for the people of Dover.

"For those now unable to return to their families in mainland Europe for Christmas - at the end of this year of such great suffering - the heartbreak and frustration is immense. Local councils in Kent are stretched to the limit trying to support all those who are stuck. We applaud council workers, churches, other faith groups and volunteers who are providing hot meals and other kinds of support.

"These efforts are heroic. Kent’s local authorities are doing everything they can with the resources they have. But this is a national issue and the government needs to intervene decisively. The necessary provisions must be given for people to endure this ordeal with their dignity intact, making sure enough Covid tests are available so drivers and workers can return home as soon as possible. "

Although testing has begun at Manston and in Dover, thousands of lorries remain stranded and it could take days to clear the backlog - with one haulage boss declaring the situation an "humanitarian crisis".

The travel ban was lifted last night after three days of chaos but drivers must test negative at a huge pop up testing site at Manston Airport before they make the trip - and now it is full.

Lorries head for the port

Currently there are more than 600 lorries in Operation Brock, the same number in Operation Stack and 3,800 at Manston.

Operation Brock is the movable barrier that sits between junctions 8 and 9 of the M20, meaning traffic can continue to flow alongside the lorries, Stack runs from 10a to 11 and is essentially a holding pen with the full carriageway shut. In this instance the motorway is shut to junction 12.

This evening this was extended to close the London bound carriageway between junction 9 for Ashford and junction 8 for Leeds Castle.

This morning scuffles broke out at Dover between police and frustrated drivers who, having been stranded at the port for days, are now seeing other lorries coming from Manston and entering.

Those in Dover are now being tested in their vehicles in an attempt to clear the gridlock - although drivers are still being told to head to Manston. Our reporter at the scene can see vehicles arriving in the port and leaving the town but the first group being tested are still waiting for their results.

About 100 vehicles have now left Manston but have struggled to get to the port because of the gridlock.

Vehicles gathering to be tested in Dover. Picture: Sam Lennon
Vehicles gathering to be tested in Dover. Picture: Sam Lennon

People desperate to enter have now blockaded the port's exit with their vehicles and a human chain. One man was dragged away by police.

The crisis has led the Liberal Democrats to demand the Prime Minister declare a “State of Emergency” in Kent, with leader Ed Davey warning welfare is seriously at risk.

He called on Boris Johnson to "act now" before the situation "spirals further out of control".

MP Natalie Elphicke had previously said setting up testing facilities at Dover would be a huge undertaking but where possible mobile units should be put in place.

Police hold back drivers trying to enter the Port of Dover Picture: PA
Police hold back drivers trying to enter the Port of Dover Picture: PA

There were also stand offs at Manston as drivers attempted to leave and others enter.

Meanwhile Church Road in Cheriton is clogging up with foreign-registered light goods vehicles.

Drivers are queueing up outside the walk-in Covid testing site hoping to get a test so they can travel to France.

But they were turned away by a man who told them "you won't be able to get a test today - you can try Canterbury but you won't get a test there either".

They were also parked up on the Shorncliffe Heights estate at 2am.

One told our reporter he needed "paperwork" and it was "very difficult".

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 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 begun and will be over seen by army logistic experts.

All 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 them to get through quickly.

Lorries between M20 junction 10a and 11 Picture: Barry Goodwin
Lorries between M20 junction 10a and 11 Picture: Barry Goodwin
Lorries queue on the M20 Picture: Barry Goodwin
Lorries queue on the M20 Picture: Barry Goodwin

DFDS confirmed last night 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."

News of the border reopening came as 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.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent.

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