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Covid border chaos: Manston Airport lorry park at capacity as drivers get tested for coronavirus


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The giant makeshift 4,000-capacity lorry park at Manston Airport is full.

Drivers stranded in the county since the border was shut on Sunday need to get tested before being allowed to cross the Channel.

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

The only place that can happen at any scale is Manston, with those stuck at Dover clashing with police and blockading the port in protest at the situation.

Initially it was the only place but a mobile unit is now being set up at Dover.

There are currently more than 600 lorries in Operation Brock, the same number in Operation Stack and 3,800 at Manston, with the remaining space needed for testing.

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.

Drivers at Dover are being told they must head to the Ramsgate site, which is 19 miles away. And now it is full hopes of clearing the backlog any time soon are fading.

There are also stand-offs at Manston as drivers both try and get on and off the site and traffic chaos throughout coastal Kent.

Drivers have also been turning up at walk-in test centres in the hope they can be seen.

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.

Lorry chaos at Manston
Lorry chaos at Manston

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.

He also confirmed those who test positive will have to isolate in hotels, with the initial cost picked up by the government.

North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale played down suggestions the situation at Manston was out of control, saying: "It isn't chaos. I was there on Wednesday morning.

"Manston is not as it has been described. From a standing start, in 24 hours, they have done an incredible job.

"The drivers are getting hot food, they've got sanitation, they've got hot water, they are organised and properly marshalled on the airfield. When I was there on Wednesday, the testing started and the trucks are now beginning to be released.

"The Manston exercise is a very considerable success story and I think the Department for Transport has handled that about as well as it can be handled.

"The problems, and indeed there are some, are caused by a variety of things. One is there's a degree of congestion. Manston is now full and some drivers are being sent back along the M20, where there is another testing station being established - and that has caused a few problems. I don't want to pretend there aren't problems, but it's quite clear that the lorry park is beginning to move out as well as in.

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

"One of the other concerns I've heard about is the medical facilities. The answer is the overwhelming majority take care of themselves and it's expected that most of them will test negative. Ones that test positive will be isolated in their cabs and retested using a lab test.

"Provisions are being made to treat anybody who does have Covid, but we don't expect there to be many of them.

"The food is free. It may well be that some lorry drivers want a three-course meal with wine, but that's not on. What everyone's doing is busting a gut to get these people away for Christmas.

"This is a problem caused by the French and not the British. My view is it was Monsieur Macron grandstanding for political purposes.

"Having heard some of the press reports, I was expecting to be concerned but I was very impressed with what I saw in Manston.

"Some of these people have a long drive ahead of them on the other side of the Channel, so I can't tell you they'll definitely get home for Christmas. But from our end the Department for Transport and Kent County Council, they've done a very good job under very difficult circumstances.

"There are queues - local traffic is having a hard time as people are probably taking 30 minutes longer to get to work."

He added: "As a dry run for December 31, it's proved what can be done.

"This is a medical problem and a French overreaction to brilliant British science, and that's different from the paperwork situation that will arise from a no-deal Brexit.

"I can't tell you that it will be alright.

"It's probably helped prove the facilities can be made to work. I'm going to try to pretend that this will solve the [Brexit] problems."

A lorry driver at Manston speaks to us

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