A team of French firefighters has been sent to Dover with 10,000 coronavirus tests for lorry drivers under a renewed Franco-British mission to let hauliers cross the Channel by Christmas Day as it emerged that fewer than 100 of the thousands of waiting vehicles were embarked on Wednesday.
France’s ambassador to the UK, Catherine Colonna, said the two countries were “neighbours, partners, allies and (yes) friends” and that 26 firefighters had brought thousands of rapid-turnaround tests to the port on Christmas Eve.
A picture posted on Twitter by Colonna – using the hashtags #StrongerTogether and #thursdayvibes – showed the orange-jacketed pompiers carrying out Covid tests on hauliers before dawn on Thursday.
The move came as the UK’s transport secretary, Grant Shapps, promised that ferries would sail on Christmas Day and Boxing Day to help unblock the logjam caused by a 48-hour border closure imposed by France in an attempt to stop the new hyper-infective Covid variant from crossing the Channel.
On Thursday, the Port of Dover said: “Overnight, due to restrictions on testing, the port received under 100 freight vehicles. However, now testing has fully mobilised at the port we anticipate that figure rising significantly throughout the day.”
The communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, had expressed hope that the queue could be got moving by Wednesday morning.
There were rising tensions at the port on Wednesday as lorry drivers, many of whom had been stuck in Dover for more than 48 hours with limited resources, remonstrated with UK officials.
As many as 10,000 lorries were estimated to be backed up around ports on England’s south coast, including at a lorry park at Manston airfield, where 170 army personnel were called in to help with the NHS-led effort to test drivers that got underway on Wednesday morning.
But before sunrise on Christmas Eve, with a momentous Brexit trade deal hours away from being unveiled, a fresh take on Franco-British co-operation emerged in Dover.
The French embassy in the UK tweeted: “26 French firemen have arrived early in #Dover this morning, bringing with them 10 000 #Covid19 tests. They are already working closely with the British on the ground, testing drivers on their way to France! #StrongerTogether #FrancoBritishFriendship”
It is not clear why the 10,000 French tests were needed in Kent – the UK government said on Wednesday evening it had four mobile testing sites in operation with a further five being set up – but the help was welcomed by Shapps.
The ministers, who has been negotiating all week with his French counterpart to unblock the ports, tweeted: “As well as ensuring ferries will now sail on Christmas and Boxing Day, we’ve also got great cooperation by French firemen working with NHS test and trace and our brilliant military in a big effort to clear the backlog created by the French border closure.”
The Department for Transport and the French embassy in the UK were contacted for comment.
Courtesy: The Guardian UK