Around 1,000 British soldiers were spending Christmas Day trying to clear a huge backlog of truck drivers stuck in southeast England after France briefly closed its border to the UK, then demanded coronavirus tests from all amid fears of a new coronavirus variant. Even though an estimated 4,000 or so international truck drivers are spending yet another day cooped up in their cabs, some progress was evident Friday, with traffic around the English Channel port of Dover moving in an orderly fashion toward the extra ferries that were put on to make the short crossing across to Calais in northern France. Rail operator Eurotunnel was also back in action, the AP reports, offering a way back into France. The military personnel were directing traffic and helping a mass testing program for the drivers, who must test negative to enter France. French firefighters have been drafted to help the military test drivers for coronavirus. Poland's Territorial Defense Force also sent reinforcements to help with testing and food distribution.
British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he instructed the army to take control of testing to get "foreign hauliers home with their families as quickly as we can." Officials said that all but three of the tests conducted so far have been negative. Those testing positive are being offered accommodation. France closed its border for 48 hours on Sunday after Britain said a variant of the virus that is 70% more transmissible is driving the rapid spread of infections in and around London. Free food and drink was being sent to the stranded truckers, and more than 250 portable toilets were put in at Manston, with 32 others placed along the gridlocked M20 highway. Britain's coast guard said teams in the Dover area had so far delivered 3,000 hot meals, 600 pizzas, and 2,985 packed lunches. "The most reassuring thing is that food is getting through at Manston, and I have to say a big thank-you to everyone who volunteered to help drivers stick it out in cold conditions in the days leading up to Christmas," an official of trucking association said. (Sitting in their cabs got old for the drivers.)