All lorry drivers entering England face compulsory Covid tests to fight threat of new coronavirus variants despite fears it could disrupt food supplies
- Lorry drivers will tested for Covid-19 once in England, rather than at the border
- France has dropped requirement for lorry drivers arriving from UK to be tested
- Testing comes amid concerns over a third wave of Covid-19 cases across Europe
All lorry drivers entering England face compulsory Covid-19 tests to fight the threat of new coronavirus variants – despite fears the scheme could disrupt food supplies.
Hauliers, border force officials and other workers have been exempt from testing when entering the UK, but Whitehall is set to announce a change this weekend.
Those arriving will have to take a customised test once they are in Britain, rather than at the borders, to avoid delays that could lead to empty shelves in supermarkets and shops.
Despite concerns over delays, Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that the Government ‘can’t rule out tougher measures’.
French officials started testing lorry drivers in Dover, before they crossed The Channel, in December last year. This week they have dropped the scheme, while the British Government looks set to adopt a similar one to curb the spread of Covid variants
A Government source told The Telegraph: ‘The potential impact is hard to quantify but there is a concern that an inbound testing regime will introduce an additional burden that could cause significant points of friction.’
Those staying longer than two days will have to have a test within 48 hours of arriving and then every 72 hours, with fines similar to the £2,000 penalties for travellers who fail to test during home quarantine.
Border Force staff engaged in cross Channel work and similar arrangements for those working on trains and ferries in the area will have to take three mandatory tests a week.
Rather than be tested at Calais and risk cross-Channel delays, the Government is expected to test hauliers in England. Those staying longer than two days will have to have a test within 48 hours of arriving and then every 72 hours
Concerns are growing about the spread of the South African and Brazilian variants of coronavirus, with Home Affairs Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper on Wednesday asking why hauliers coming from France were not being tested given the country has up to 3,000 cases of the two strains.
Speaking on the same day, Mr Johnson admitted he was considering tougher restrictions for France, telling the Liaison Committee of senior MPs that ‘we have to look at the situation at the Channel’ and ‘we can’t rule out tougher measures and we will put them in if necessary’.
When France required the testing of hauliers crossing the Channel in December it led to thousands of lorries being stranded in Kent while the arrangements were put in place.
Three months on from the delays, France this week lifted its requirement for lorry drivers arriving from Britain to present a negative Covid test.
Boris Johnson admitted he was considering tougher restrictions for France, telling the Liaison Committee of senior MPs that ‘we have to look at the situation at the Channel’ and ‘we can’t rule out tougher measures and we will put them in if necessary’
Mr Johnson on Wednesday acknowledged there would be ‘very serious disruption’ involved in any curtailing of cross-Channel trade.
‘This country depends very largely for the food in our shops, for the medicines that we need on that trade flowing smoothly,’ he said.
‘We will take a decision, no matter how tough, to interrupt that trade, to interrupt those flows, if we think that it is necessary to protect public health and to stop new variants coming in.
‘It may be that we have to do that very soon.’
The comments were made amid reports Mr Johnson is under pressure from England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty and his deputy Jonathan Van-Tam to implement tougher border controls.
Logistics UK said any testing regime of hauliers arriving in the UK from France must be ‘proportionate’.
Sarah Laouadi, European policy manager at the trade body, said it was ‘worth remembering that drivers are, by the nature of their jobs and thanks to contactless delivery procedures, a very low-risk category – as has been borne out by the testing carried out on drivers since the start of the pandemic – and any testing regime must be proportionate’.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said: ‘We are carefully monitoring the increase in cases in Europe and will keep all measures under review as we cautiously remove restrictions throughout our roadmap.’