The French government has called for a strict new coronavirus testing regime to curb the spread of the new variant as it signalled it was ready to lift a ban on travel from the UK on Wednesday morning.
Thousands of truck drivers are stuck on each side of the Channel following the 48-hour closure of one of the world’s biggest trade routes by France and some of its EU partners.
Gabriel Attal, French government spokesman, said the aim was that 2,000-3,000 French lorry drivers “could come over the border as soon as possible once European co-ordination and a reinforced health protocol have been set up in the coming hours”.
Travellers planning to return to France from the UK should undergo a PCR test showing them to be negative for Covid-19 if they wanted to be home in time for Christmas, he told RTL radio.
Mr Attal was speaking before the EU held a meeting of its crisis response committee on Monday to discuss the new variant, which has prompted countries in the EU and beyond to ban travel from the UK.
He said travel from the UK to France had been suspended to allow the EU’s 27 member states to co-ordinate their response and for the creation of a new health protocol involving testing of those crossing the border.
Boris Johnson, British prime minister, is to chair an emergency meeting of UK officials to discuss ways to ensure the flow of freight into the country.
Paris’s move to impose a 48-hour block on people and truck-borne freight coming into France from Britain from Monday prompted the closure of transport services across the English Channel, notably between Dover and Calais and via the Channel Tunnel.
It raised the prospect of crippling delays on the UK’s main freight links with the EU across the Dover Strait, which usually handles up to 10,000 trucks a day.
Eamon Ryan, Irish transport minister, said some of the estimated 250 Irish truckers stuck in Britain trying to access the continent would have to return to Ireland.
Grant Shapps, UK transport secretary, sought to play down the situation, saying that goods continued to flow from France to the UK.
He said goods continued to move from the UK to France when they were “unaccompanied” — meaning they had been loaded on to ships as opposed to being driven by truck — but they are a small proportion of cross-border trade.