Thousands of international lorry drivers will spend Boxing Day in their cabs after almost a week of disruption at the English Channel border.
Around 3,000 hauliers were still waiting to cross into France from Kent on Friday evening despite hundreds of troops being drafted in to help clear the backlog.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said, while 4,500 lorries had crossed the channel since French authorities eased restrictions on Wednesday, more vehicles were continuing to arrive “every hour”.
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.— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) December 25, 2020
Over 10,000 tests have taken place & over 4,500 HGVs are back over the Channel. 🚚@DefenceHQ working to keep things moving pic.twitter.com/JVcEHd7vRQ
France closed its border last Sunday following the discovery of a fast-spreading mutant Covid-19 strain in the UK, causing severe disruptions at the Port of Dover.
Drivers wishing to enter the country from the UK must now show proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken in the past 72 hours.
Some 1,100 military personnel have since been deployed to Kent to help test hauliers queued at the nearby Manston Airport, on a closed section of the M20, and in the town of Dover itself.
Some drivers have already spent nearly a week stranded due to the diplomatic impasse.
Shame on you
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said more than 10,000 Covid-19 tests have been carried out so far, of which 24 returned a positive result.
He said: “The British Army is again showing why it is world class, ramping up testing and feeding hauliers stranded by the Covid restrictions, while helping oversee the operation in Kent.
“But let’s not forget the tireless effort of the police, civilian testers, council planners and port and ferry workers.
“These thousands of people, military and civilians, have given up their Christmas to help drivers separated from their loved ones through no fault of their own.”
Thousands of truck drivers stranded in dire circumstances at Dover & the Prime Minister nor any member of his cabinet with the courage to pay them a visit on Christmas Day #ShameonYou— Barry Sheerman MP (@BarrySheerman) December 25, 2020
However Labour MP Barry Sheerman tweeted: “Thousands of truck drivers stranded in dire circumstances at Dover & the Prime Minister nor any member of his cabinet with the courage to pay them a visit on Christmas Day #ShameonYou”.
Army personnel had tested more than 6,200 drivers as of Christmas Day, while also being tasked with distributing food and water, the MoD said.
Traffic was moving smoothly through Dover on Friday, with French firefighters and the Polish military’s Territorial Defence Force also drafted in to help with testing.
Poland has codenamed its operation Zumbach, after the Polish Second World War pilot Jan Zumbach, who fought for the allies in the Battle of Britain, the country’s UK embassy said.
Germany’s ambassador to the UK, Andreas Michaelis, said some German hauliers had managed to make it home for Christmas, while others remained in Kent.
He tweeted: “Some of the German lorry drivers we’ve been in touch with are on their way home or at home already. Others sadly remain stuck.
“I sincerely hope things will start moving for them soon. This is a difficult Christmas. Our thoughts are with them.”
Good news from Dover: Some of the German lorry drivers we've been in touch with are on their way home or at home already. Others sadly remain stuck. I sincerely hope things will start moving for them soon. This is a difficult Christmas. Our thoughts are with them. pic.twitter.com/K1LfIXI0TY— Andreas Michaelis (@GermanAmbUK) December 25, 2020
Various individuals and organisations have volunteered to help the stranded drivers by providing them with food and drink.
Mubashir Ahmad Siddiqi, 60, and his two 20-year-old sons Qasim and Hamza, from Barking in east London, spent six hours helping to prepare 1,000 portions of chicken biryani on Friday for those stuck in Kent.
Mr Siddiqi said: “Ten of us from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community and the Ahmadiyya Muslim youth association managed to drop off over 1,000 meals, 1,200 chocolate bars and drinks for the lorry drivers.”
He added: “It’s a great feeling to be able to help those who are alone at the moment and we hope that through our humble efforts we were able to cheer them up with the food packages.”
HM Coastguard said its teams in the Dover area had also delivered 3,000 hot meals, 600 pizzas, 2,985 packed lunches and 17 pallets of water to those waiting.
The MoD said 800 additional soldiers were deployed on Friday as part of Operation Rose to support the 300 personnel already there.