COVID AND BREXIT PAIN FOR CROSS-CHANNEL OPERATORS
The identification of a new more virulent strain of coronavirus in mid-December led to the closure of the border with the UK by France and Belgium on 20 December. This meant thousands of lorries were unable to make the Channel crossing by either Eurotunnel or ferry and were parked on the motorways or at Manston airfield in Kent. Many drivers had no choice but to spend Christmas in their trucks as the French authorities insisted all were tested for coronavirus before being allowed to enter France. Thousands of tests were conducted by the British military, assisted by French firefighters from northern France and members of the Polish military reserve forces. The French allowed traffic to restart on 23 December, after explicit criticism from the EU Commission – not least as almost all the drivers affected were EU citizens – but the backlog of trucks took until the end of 2020 to clear.
Eurostar was similarly disrupted, running no services from London on 21 and 22 December, at a time when it had been offering more trains than in recent weeks due to pre-Christmas travel (although new lockdowns would probably have depressed actual passenger numbers even if operation had been possible). Eurostar restarted operation on 23 December, with negative Covid tests required for all passengers and crew.