French hauliers warn against shipping to UK during Covid border closure

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Industry groups representing French and other European hauliers have warned drivers not to travel to Britain and called for solutions for stranded operators following France's border closure over a new coronavirus strain.

Although many nations blocked travel from Britain after the detection of an apparently more virulent strain of the coronavirus causing Covid-19 on Sunday, France’s border closure came with the added constraint on shipping and trade.

Lorries were backed up for kilometres on the highway leading to the port of Dover in southeastern England, Britain’s main trade gateway with the continent, leaving drivers stranded and unsure if they would be home for the holidays.

But on the French side, roads and the port in Calais were largely deserted, because even though there were in theory no restrictions on entry to the UK, the logistics chains that normally keep goods moving had been disrupted to the point of standstill.

“No driver wants to deliver to the UK now, so the UK is going to see its freight supply dry up,” said France’s national road haulage federation FNTR, which estimated 17,000 European lorries were blocked at Dover on Monday.

Drivers cancel shipments to UK

David Sagnard, FNTR president for the Pas-de-Calais department in northern France, told AFP, the French news agency, that he cancelled his hauling company’s trips, putting and end to shipments aiming to stock up ahead of Brexit.

“Twelve vehicles were to leave today, half from the port, the others taking the Channel Tunnel,” Sagnard told AFP.

“We’re thinking about finding a solution for transporting without drivers, by using containers, but in Dover the traffic jams are so bad that vehicles trying to pick up a trailer would never reach the port,” Sagnard said.

The situation left some hauliers standing by around Calais, unsure what to do with supplies bound for Britain and not wanting to enter for fear of being stranded. Others were turning back, with their loads undelivered.

Stranded in Britain

French trade unions warned hauliers not to go to the UK and called for solutions for those who were stranded in Dover.

“A number of French drivers but also from other countries are stuck in the United Kingdom in inhumane conditions,” said a statement from transport branches of trade union federations CFDT, CGT, FO and CFTC, citing scant access to restaurants and sanitary facilities.

The unions called for “the immediate halt of transport to the UK until there is a real solution” and that Covid tests for drivers entering from the UK could be “carried out on French territory”.

All quiet in Calais port

Jean-Marc Puissesseau, president of the port of Calais, called for tests to be carried out in the UK.

“If we had to test every lorry with every ferry, it would be a catastrope given the number of trucks waiting to get back to Europe,” he said.

The ferry terminal in Calais meanwhile, usually an epicentre of cross-Channel travel and trade, was nearly silent, with hardly any cars in the vast parking lot.

Some UK residents trying to return home were frustrated by ferry operators unable or unwilling to make the trip without certainty of being able to come back.

(with newswires)