Stranded truckers fume as they wait to leave UK after COVID blockade

By Peter Nicholls and Gerry Mey
DOVER, England (Reuters) - Angry truck drivers stranded in the English port of Dover clashed with police as Britain tried to curb a highly infectious variant of coronavirus after a partial blockade of France, trying to get cross-channel traffic going .
Paris and London agreed late Tuesday that drivers with a negative test result could board ferries to Calais from Wednesday after much of the world closed its borders with the UK to contain the new mutated variant.
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The UK government called in the military to help, but there was confusion among drivers about how to get tests and warnings that it would take time to clear the backlog of trucks and the UK's main food trade route just a few days before leaving the European to hammer orbit the union.
"The tests have started as we try to get traffic between the UK and France going again," said UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Twitter. "The French border police will not act amicably until this morning and there are still significant delays."
Huge queues of trucks were piled up on a motorway towards the Eurotunnel Channel Tunnel and on roads to Dover in southeastern Kent while others were parked at the former nearby Manston airport.
With no sign of mainland Europe traffic and confusion about how to get a coronavirus test done, tempers flared among drivers, many from Eastern Europe who don't speak English and are angry that they can't get home to their families before Christmas.
Police said there had been riots in Dover and Manston "involving people hoping to cross the canal" and an arrest had been made.
"It shouldn't work that way. We don't have any information, people have to call up information," Mekki Coskun from Dortmund in Germany told Reuters.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he had contacted British Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron about the traffic jam.
"This can be done differently. This whole process could have been better organized," he said.
The Road Haulage Association, which is estimated to be detaining up to 10,000 trucks in Kent, said it was messy.
"The border is still closed, the test regime isn't in place yet, you've got truckers very angry, and we're seeing a little break in law among frustrated little people who want to come back for Christmas," said Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy for the RHA.
Typically between 7,500 and 8,500 trucks pass through the port every day, but the volume has recently topped 10,000.
Getlink, the operator of the channel tunnel, said only 45 trucks had reached France between midnight and 1100 GMT.
Some of the extra traffic was due to Christmas demand, but many were in the country to deliver goods to companies that store parts before the UK finally leaves the EU on December 31st. This move is expected to cause further disruptions in January. A full customs border comes into effect.
The British Retail Consortium, an industry lobby group, warned there could be issues with the availability of some fresh goods until the backlog of trucks is cleared and supply chains are back to normal.
Logistics companies also said that many European drivers have already refused to come to the UK in the New Year if they are required to carry customs papers and the need to get a coronavirus test will further exacerbate the situation and drive freight prices up .
The drivers will first perform a quick cross-flow test. Anyone who records a positive result will do a more comprehensive PCR test, which will take longer to produce a result, and anyone who tests positive again will be given a hotel room for isolation.
Many of the mostly European drivers, many of whom are stranded with their trucks and with no access to hot food or sanitation, believe they will be farmers in a political stalemate between the UK and the EU when trade talks peak.
"We have no food, we have no drink, we have nothing, nobody ... takes care of us," said Stella Vradzheva, a driver from Sterlcha in Bulgaria.
(Additional reporting by James Davey, Joanna Plucinska and Yiming Woo; writing by Kate Holton and Michael Holden; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Alison Williams)

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