Wednesday, April 14, 2021

UK faces Christmas food crisis, as France closes border to trucks over mutant COVID-19 strain

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The UK faces the threat of critical food shortages, including for fresh fruits and vegetables, days before Christmas, as European countries impose transit bans from the country in response to the discovery of a mutant strain of the coronavirus in the south of England.

The French government has imposed a 48-hour ban on people and trucks entering the country from the UK, starting today. The move is likely to cripple UK trade with the rest of Europe, much of which lies between Calais, France, and Dover.[/hotlink], In England.

The potential food shortages are a grim irony for a country that had raced to meet the Dec.31 deadline for a trade deal with the European Union that was supposed to prevent exactly such a prospect.

The Channel crossing between Dover and Calais handles up to 10,000 trucks per day, 90% of all truck traffic entering the country. About half of all UK imports cross this border. In addition, around 50% of the food consumed by the British – and up to 85% of the fresh fruit and vegetables the country eats – comes from the EU, much of it being shipped by trucks that cross the Channel by ferries or by the Eurotunnel train from France.

While there is no ban on these trucks arriving in Britain, many freight carriers are reluctant to send drivers to the UK without being sure they will be able to make the crossing. back to continental Europe.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was planning to hold emergency talks with ministers in his government on Monday on how to ensure the continued flow of freight into the country. Meanwhile, European Union officials were holding a crisis committee meeting to coordinate the response to the new variant of the mutant coronavirus.

Besides France, Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands have all blocked arrivals to the UK. Further afield, Israel has turned away visitors from the UK and Hong Kong has banned flights from Britain in response to the new mutant strain.

The new variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for Covid-19, has emerged in southern England in recent weeks. British government scientists said on Saturday that tests had shown the new strain to be 70% more transmissible than the original virus. But they said there was no evidence so far that the new variant was more likely to cause serious disease or that the current crop of Covid-19 vaccines being rolled out across the world would not protect against it.

The imposition of travel bans on British citizens appears to have been largely the result of the sudden decision by the Johnson government on Saturday to impose strict restrictions on movement, socialization and business for large parts of southern England, where the new strain is most prevalent. The move was a sharp turn for Johnson, who had imposed a national lockdown in November in an effort to stem a huge spike in infections, centered largely in the north of England, and had planned to ease measures of social distancing over Christmas. holidays.

Parts of the UK government seems to have been aware of the new strain for a while. British labs were first detected in early October in a sample taken from someone at the end of September. But concern over the mutant strain appears to have been eased until the UK begins to experience a second massive wave of Covid-19 infections in October and November. With new cases totaling more than 25,000 people per day in early December, scientists realized that the new strain was now responsible for a large number of them – accounting for the majority of new cases in London and the east of England and about half of those in the south-east of England. .

Matt Hancock, the UK Minister for Health, first publicly mentioned the new strain in a speech to Parliament on December 14. He said at the time that the World Health Organization had been made aware of the new variant. But Hancock said it was only on Friday that he and Johnson and a larger group of ministers were fully briefed on the alarming figures on the increased transmissibility of the new strain by an expert advisory group working on threats of new and emerging respiratory viruses.

The new travel bans also come at a critical time in negotiations between the UK and the EU on an agreement to govern their trade relationship after December 31, when a one-year Brexit transition period expires. Despite years of talks, negotiators have so far failed to reach a deal – and missed another deadline to reach one on Sunday, as disagreements between the two sides persisted over issues such as fishing rights.

Without an agreement in place, the UK in the face of chaos along the Dover-Calais trucking route, with new red tape and customs checks that could lead to delays of several kilometers on both sides of the Channel, and warnings that such delays could lead to food shortages. As a result, many retailers and grocers attempted to stockpile supplies before January 1, and the Channel Crossing road areas have already been congested for weeks due to additional truck traffic.

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