Calais is open but chaos drags on
France asks truckers for antigen testing before crossing the Channel
LondonFrance conditionally reopened the border at Calais this past midnight, bringing some hope to the more than 3,000 freight forwarders who have been waiting near the port of Dover for the end of the blockade they have experienced over the last 48 hours waiting to cross the Channel. However, for many of the professionals behind the wheel, the damage has already been done.
The agreement to resume communications took much longer than expected because of the discussion between Paris and London about what kind of test the truckers would have to submit, whether a PCR or an antigen test. Finally, the latter was requested.
The British premier, Boris Johnson, had assured on Monday, after speaking with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, that the solution was a matter of "a few hours". As usual, he showed excessive optimism.
Paris also announced yesterday evening that it will allow nationals and residents, as well as citizens of the European Union (EU), to return if they present a negative PCR made three days before crossing the Channel or a negative antigen test that detects the new strain of SARS-Cov-2.
Even so, planes, ferries and the Eurostar have resumed connections early this morning. People making essential journeys are also being allowed to enter France, including health workers fighting covid-19, fishing crews and bus drivers or train drivers, in addition to the above-mentioned truck drivers.
In addition to the difference in reliability, the difference between a PCR and an antigen test is crucial for carriers. In the first case, it would have meant waiting somewhere on British territory for the 24 or 48 hours it takes to get the result. In the other, 15 or 20 minutes. Time is precious for truck drivers, especially when fresh goods are loaded, since some 10,000 trailers cross the Channel are every day. A small delay in a vehicle can result in hours of waiting and long queues. Another aspect is to solve what happens with positive results: how and where they are isolated.
What is already certain is that chaos will continue in Dover beyond Christmas Day and that many goods on their way to the continent, which would have had to reach the French, Spanish or German markets on 24 December, will probably have already been spoiled.
Throughout yesterday the impatience of drivers trapped in Kent became evident through social networks, which picked up on both the protests about the blockade and the lack of hot food and sanitary facilities: toilets and showers. One more proof of the lack of foresight in the face of a possible hard Brexit and the problems it may cause after December 31st.
Driving professionals from all over Europe, especially from the East but also from Spain - the Foreign Office has estimated that about 10,000 of those in transit from the UK and those on their way there have been affected - fear that they will no longer be able to spend Christmas with their families. Not to mention the economic losses, since they are charged according to the load delivered. A burden that, in many cases, will have been lost and will not be covered by any insurance company.
France decided - in the midst of a cascade of total bans on transport from the United Kingdom, as well as less severe restrictions, which until yesterday had already been imposed by 55 countries - to protect itself from the new strain of covid-19 which is behind the exponential increase in contagion in London and southern England. A new strain that Boris Johnson reported on Saturday could be 70% more contagious than previous ones.
Additionally, it is impossible not to think of Brexit. An unfortunate coincidence for some, or a lesson for the United Kingdom for others, soon the end of the transition period of British membership of the European Union (EU) will be reached - it ends with the year. This is what Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian MEP who was the chairman of the Brexit panel from 2016 to 31 January this year, said yesterday in a poisonous tweet against Boris Johnson.
Playing back the images of the thousands of trailers stopped in Dover, Verhofstadt said: "We forget what the borders were like. Some thought they would remain open with or without the EU. Now they will start to understand what it really means to leave the EU". The comment was not well received in the UK, immersed with the EU in "crucial" hours of trying to close the post-Brexit, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said yesterday from Brussels.