The Government is planning to implement a mass testing regime for lorry drivers arriving in the UK just days after the Prime Minister flagged tougher measures to prevent Covid-19 variants being transmitted from Europe.
Hauliers, border force officials and other specialist workers at the border have been exempted from testing, but The Daily Telegraph reports that could soon change.
The paper says Whitehall will announce this weekend that those previously exempted will instead have to take a customised test, though this will be done once they are in Britain rather than at the border to avoid delays that might lead to shortages in supermarkets.
Those staying longer than two days will have to have a test within 48 of arriving and then every 72 hours, with fines similar to the £2,000 penalties for travellers who fail to test during home quarantine.
Thrice weekly tests will be mandatory for Border Force staff engaged in cross Channel work and similar arrangements for those working on trains and ferries in the area.
Concerns are growing about the spread of the South African and Brazilian variants of coronavirus, with Home Affairs Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper on Wednesday asking why hauliers coming from France were not being tested given the country has up to 3,000 cases of the two strains.
Speaking on the same day, Mr Johnson admitted he was considering tougher restrictions for France, telling the Liaison Committee of senior MPs that “we have to look at the situation at the Channel” and “we can’t rule out tougher measures and we will put them in if necessary”.
Reacting to the reports, Ms Cooper said a testing regime for hauliers was “workable” after similar arrangements were put in place at Christmas.
“I hope this news is correct. We need confirmation from the Government and we need this in place as fast as possible,” said the Labour MP.
“Too often there have been delays introducing border measures to stop Covid or new variants spreading.
“The Government needs to learn those lessons and act swiftly now.”
When France required the testing of hauliers crossing the Channel in December it led to thousands of lorries being stranded in Kent while the arrangements were put in place.
Mr Johnson on Wednesday acknowledged there would be “very serious disruption” involved in any curtailing of cross-Channel trade.
“This country depends very largely for the food in our shops, for the medicines that we need on that trade flowing smoothly,” he said.
“We will take a decision, no matter how tough, to interrupt that trade, to interrupt those flows, if we think that it is necessary to protect public health and to stop new variants coming in.
“It may be that we have to do that very soon.”
Logistics UK said any testing regime of hauliers arriving in the UK from France must be “proportionate”.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said: “We are carefully monitoring the increase in cases in Europe and will keep all measures under review as we cautiously remove restrictions throughout our roadmap.”
Flagging concerns that Covid variants are reaching the UK from western Europe and the US, Labour shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “These dire warnings about new variants coming to the UK show why the UK Government’s reckless approach to border security against Covid is so dangerous.
“Labour has long called for a comprehensive hotel quarantine system. Instead, the current system means around just 1% of thousands of daily arrivals quarantine in hotels.”