French fire brigade tests truckers
French fire brigade tests truckers

dpa/GNA – France has sent firefighters and 10,000 coronavirus tests across the English Channel to help clear the backlog of lorries trapped at the port of Dover over fears about the spread of a potentially more infectious strain of the coronavirus.

At least 15 members of the fire brigade and 10 civil defence volunteers plan to help test lorry drivers in the south-east English port city, the prefecture for the northern French region of Hauts-de-France announced on Thursday via Twitter.

Because of the rapid spread of the new coronavirus variant in Britain, France closed the borders for travellers from the island and only reopened them on Wednesday night.

Because lorry drivers now have to submit a negative coronavirus test to enter France, it is still expected to take days before the backlog of several thousand vehicles is cleared.

The British-French border is to remain open over the Christmas holidays and traffic through the Eurotunnel is to continue, British Transport Minister Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter on Thursday, noting that he had spoken to his French counterpart Jean-Baptiste Djebbari.

“We’ve agreed the UK/French border at Eurotunnel, Dover & Calais WILL remain open throughout Xmas in order to help hauliers & citizens return home as soon as possible,” Shapps tweeted.
“The ports of Calais and Dover as well as the Eurotunnel will be open at Christmas,” Djebbari tweeted, confirming the agreement.

The coronavirus testing will continue over the holidays, Shapps wrote.

Fears of the new strain put much of Britain back into lockdown at the weekend and have disrupted Britain’s travel ties with most of the rest of the world either imposing restrictions or outright bans.

Denmark, which like a slew of other European nations imposed a flight ban on planes from Britain at the start of the week, said late Wednesday it would be lifted on Friday.

The Dutch government has also said Britons can start flying into the Netherlands again if they have had a recent negative test.

Bulgaria allowed flights to and from Britain to resume from Thursday to allow people to return home. People arriving by air in Bulgaria still have to do a rapid coronavirus test at the airport, Health Minister Kostadin Angelov explained on Thursday.

Brazil went in the opposite direction and decided to ban flights temporarily from Britain, according to a decree published in a special edition of the Brazilian government’s official gazette on Wednesday evening. The ban applies from Friday.

Foreign passengers who do not have permanent residence in Brazil and have been in Britain in the past 14 days are also not allowed to enter.

Denmark said on Thursday it has detected 33 cases of the coronavirus variant that has raised alarm in Britain.

The new variant has also been detected in Germany in a woman who entered the south-western German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg from Britain on Sunday, the regional ministry of health in Stuttgart said on Thursday.

The woman, who had flown from London’s Heathrow airport to Frankfurt to visit relatives, had mild symptoms and was in isolation. Three close contacts were also in quarantine.

Berlin virologist Christian Drosten, who has become a household name in Germany for his role as a government Covid-19 adviser, predicted earlier this week that the variant was likely already in Germany.

With the current restrictions in Germany, “this variant is likely to find it rather difficult to gain a foothold,” he said.

The head of German vaccine manufacturer BioNTech, Ugur Sahin, also said earlier this week that vaccine developed by his company and Pfizer is very likely to be effective against the new virus variant.

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