France lets some UK cargo, people in; huge backlog remains

Freight from Britain and passengers with a negative virus test have begun arriving on French shores, after France relaxed a two-day blockade over a new virus variant

Associated Press reporters saw a ferry from Britain pulling into the French port of Calais before dawn, and trains carrying freight and car passengers were allowed to cross into the continent beneath the English Channel again.

People arriving from Britain are required to have a virus test capable of detecting the new variant, according to a late-night agreement reached after 48 hours of frenzied negotiations among French, British and EU authorities. European nations and others around the world began slamming borders shut to Britain on Sunday, a day after the U.K. prime minister announced that the new variant was mostly responsible for a surge in new infections in London and southern England and imposed tight new lockdown restrictions.

The company that runs the Eurotunnel said Wednesday that truck drivers lined up on the highway leading to the English port of Dover are being tested for the virus, but that it may take some time to for traffic to resume as normal after the massive backup.

British Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said around 4,000 trucks may be waiting in the southern county of Kent and urged other truckers not to head there until the backlog is cleared. It will take “a few days” to test all the drivers before they can travel to France, he said.

“Whatever the number is, whether it is 4,000 or more, it is a significant number to work through,” Jenrick said.

Calais is a major conduit for trade and travel between Britain and the continent, and France had argued that the blockade was necessary in order to work out safety measures to protect European citizens.

The French travel restrictions had angered and worried many in the U.K. because the nation relies heavily on its cross-Channel commercial links to the continent for food at this time of year, especially for fruit and fresh produce.

Dozens of other countries in Europe and beyond are continuing to bar travellers coming from the U.K. Japan announced Wednesday that it will reinstate entry ban on most new arrivals from Britain.

Eurostar passenger train traffic was also resuming from Britain to the continent Wednesday, but only for citizens of Europe’s border-free zone, British citizens with EU residency and those with a special reason to come to the continent temporarily, such as truckers.

French authorities have insisted that the blockade was based on scientific concerns and not politics, though it came amid tense talks between Britain and the EU on a post-Brexit trade deal. The pileup of trucks in Britain served as a glimpse of what the border could look like if no deal is struck by the Dec. 31 deadline.

France’s Europe minister, speaking on BFM television Wednesday about the talks, noted that it comes to trade, “the British side has much more dependence on Europe than the reverse.”

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Hui reported from London. Angela Charlton contributed from Paris.

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