COVID-19: Transport secretary criticises France's 'rather unnecessary' travel ban as hauliers warn 'it's not over'

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France's ban on lorry drivers entering the country from the UK was "rather unnecessary", the transport secretary has said.

Havoc was sprung on Kent's roads last weekend when a new coronavirus variant discovered in southeast England led to dozens of countries quickly shutting their borders to Britain.

While most exempted hauliers, France did not, meaning any accompanied freight driven in a truck or lorry could not pass through for 48 hours - leading to a backlog of thousands of lorries unable to leave the UK.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News the situation was "very inconvenient for everyone and meant a lot of people missed their Christmases".

"I think that the whole thing has been rather unnecessary," he said.

"I don't think there was a good reason to close the border for more than two days," he added, explaining that lorry drivers have a lower chance of carrying the virus as they spend much of their days inside their cabs.

An agreement has since been struck allowing accompanied freight to start travelling over the Channel by ferry or train again, provided drivers returned a negative lateral flow test.

But Mr Shapps signalled he felt it unnecessary to deny drivers entrance to France without a test, saying: "We know that the EU Commission has said they don't support this testing at borders for hauliers for one simple reason... [lorry drivers] have a much lower chance of having coronavirus than those in the rest of the population."

An overflow lorry park for freight drivers waiting to cross into France has been closed, leaving them free to head back towards Dover.

Earlier, the transport secretary said that by 9am on Boxing Day, all hauliers had left Manston airfield - the site used to manage disruption in Kent.

He added that 15,526 coronavirus tests had been carried out on drivers, yielding 36 positive results which "are being verified".

Congestion is continuing to ease at the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel, although more drivers who held off leaving for the border over Christmas are expected to join the queue soon.

Duncan Buchanan, policy director at the Road Haulage Association, warned it is "not over yet".

"We still have all the people who delayed travelling, who will start to want to get through. Some people will have parked up in Essex and will be looking at moving again," he said.

"Next week is a normal working week so I would expect the vehicles to increase then too. It's not over yet and we will see what happens next."