Fears of return to pre-Christmas Channel chaos as France bans rapid coronavirus tests

Rob Merrick
·3-min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

France is outlawing the use of rapid but less accurate Covid-19 tests for non-EU travellers, raising the risk of a return to the pre-Christmas chaos in Kent.

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said he believed there would be an exemption for lorry drivers so that they could continue to receive the 30-minute tests – but admitted that this would be the situation only “for the time being”.

Last month, tens of thousands of drivers were stranded in Kent and clashes broke out with police when France banned the entry of lorry drivers from the UK in efforts to stop the spread of the new variant of the coronavirus.

The crisis was only resolved when hauliers were given the rapid lateral flow tests, which Paris has now decided to ban for arrivals from outside the EU.

Mr Shapps said his French counterpart would visit on Monday to see “how we are applying” the 30-minute tests.

“That's the system in place and that’s what’s continuing for the time being,” he told BBC Breakfast.

France’s prime minister, Jean Castex, said on Thursday night that its nationwide night-time curfew would begin at 6pm today and remain in force for at least two weeks.

A negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test less than 72 hours old will be required for arrivals from non-EU destinations – the same system that the UK is introducing from Monday. Unlike the lateral flow tests, which can be conducted on site, PCR tests are sent to a laboratory.

Anyone with a negative result would have to self-isolate for seven days and would then have to take, and pass, a second PCR test.

Crucially, the original French travel ban came before the UK left the EU single market and customs union on New Year’s Day, creating a mountain of new paperwork for businesses.

Now Brexit has been completed, ministers are already planning “emergency” measures to prevent feared food shortages. These would allow empty lorries crossing the Channel to restock to skip queues at key ports.

Rod McKenzie, of the Road Haulage Association, condemned existing queues for truckers at Waterbrook Park, which is being used for customs checks until the end of February.

“This is shocking: Ashford truck stop today with drivers queuing for up to 8 hours to get their border paperwork cleared, then having to get Covid test afterwards for France,” he wrote on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Kent Police revealed that they had issued 407 fines to HGV drivers who failed to obtain a valid Kent Access Permit before entering the county.

Mr Shapps, when asked about a ban on lateral flow tests, said “of course that would cause problems”.

“That remains in place at the moment and that's very important because it enables goods to flow backwards and forwards between us and continental Europe,” he said.

Asked about the checks on travellers arriving in the UK that will come into effect on Monday, the transport secretary explained: “The carrier would need to first of all check that you had a coronavirus test … before you are actually able to get on the flight.

“And only if you can show within the last 72 hours a negative test, and only if that test is up to very specific standards, may you board that plane.”

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