UK ferry passengers disembark in Calais after France eases travel ban

Passengers from the UK disembarked from ferries in the port of Calais early on Wednesday after Britain and France agreed a deal to ease a travel ban imposed over the discovery of a new coronavirus variant.

The Cotes des Flandres ferry – the first ship to leave Dover after the restrictions were lifted – arrived at about 3.30am local time, followed shortly afterwards by P&O’s Spirit of France.

A handful of passenger vehicles disembarked but port management told AFP traffic was not expected to pick up until late Wednesday morning. Eurotunnel said freight services between the UK and France would resume at 7am UK time.

Hauliers stuck in Kent for days were also expected to be able to resume their journeys to France.

About 4,000 lorries, and thousands more small vans, were waiting to cross the Channel on Tuesday, with food transport firms warning that potential disruption levels ranged between “a shambles and a catastrophe” just as January and the end of Brexit transition looms. The backlog is likely to take several days to clear.

The BBC reported that soldiers had joined NHS Test and Trace staff in Kent to carry out rapid tests on stranded lorry drivers. Only those with a negative test are allowed to travel under the new rules.

The resumption of travel services to France came as the key transit country of Singapore barred UK arrivals, including if they were in transit, from Wednesday night, following a similar move by Hong Kong.

Singapore’s ministry of health said passengers who had been in the UK in the last 14 days would not be allowed entry from 11.59pm until further notice, a move that will affect travellers using it as a stopping off point on the way to countries such as Australia.

Returning citizens and permanent residents would need to take a Covid test, it said.

With regard to the resumption of UK-French travel, the British Department for Transport said on Tuesday night that rail, air and sea services would resume from Wednesday, with all people required to show proof of a negative Covid test taken within the previous 72 hours.

The UK transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the deal “will see the French border reopen to those travelling for urgent reasons, provided they have a certified negative Covid test”. However, he urged lorry drivers not to head towards Channel ports hoping to be able to board ferries or trains.

The French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebarri also confirmed that air travel, ferries and Eurostar trains would “resume service as of tomorrow morning”.

“French nationals, people living in France and those with a legitimate reason will have to be carrying a negative test,” he said.

Thousands of lorries have been stranded in southern England, unable to make the crossing to France. As night fell on Tuesday, drivers of some 800 trucks parked at a nearby disused airport sounded their horns for more than half an hour in protest.

The measures imposed on hauliers have caused concern over shortages of some fresh food products over a Christmas period already marred by strict coronavirus restrictions.

The ban on freight and passengers was imposed by Paris on Sunday evening in an attempt to contain a newly discovered Covid-19 variant thought to have a growth rate up to 70% higher than previous types. France and more than 40 other countries had closed their borders to travellers from the UK since.

On Tuesday scientists said thousands of cases of the more infectious variant had been detected across the UK, who said it had clearly spread beyond areas under the most severe tier 4 restrictions.

Reports suggested ministers would meet on Wednesday to decide whether more parts of the country would be put under the toughest restrictions amid fears over the spread of a new mutant strain of coronavirus.

With Agence France-Presse