British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair a government emergency committee meeting after France closed its borders to the UK to stem the spread of a new strain of the coronavirus circulating in London and south-east l ‘England.
COBRA’s Civilian Contingency Committee meeting later Monday comes amid warnings of “significant disruption” around Channel ports, with backlogs stretching for miles in the southeastern English county of Kent.
Freight transport faces massive disruption after France closed its borders for 48 hours, meaning trucks cannot cross the Channel by boat. The government has urged everyone to avoid traveling to Kent, which is home to many cross-Channel ports, including Dover. Eurotunnel has also suspended its services.
“Sick Man of Europe,” the Daily Mirror reported on the front page alongside a photo of Johnson while the Sun newspaper said, “French show no merci”.
The closure of the Channel and ports for onward travel to France will affect the export of goods such as fish and shellfish from Scotland to Europe, and the import of food for UK supermarkets if, as expected , European drivers refuse to travel.
British supermarket group Sainsbury’s warned Monday that gaps will start to appear on shelves within days if transport links are not quickly restored with mainland Europe.
“If nothing changes, we will start to see gaps over the next few days on lettuce, some salad greens, cauliflower, broccoli and citrus fruits – all of which are imported from the mainland at this time of year. “Sainsbury’s said.
He urged the UK and French governments to come up with a mutually acceptable solution that prioritizes the immediate passage of produce and other food through ports.
Canada and Poland are among the last countries to stop travel from the UK, following the lead of many in Europe, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands.
The measures come in the wake of Johnson’s announcement on Saturday that he was placing London and the south-east of England under a new level of Level 4 restrictions after scientists warned that the new variant of the coronavirus was spreading much faster than existing strains.
He said the new variant of the virus was 70% more transmissible and promoted the rapid spread of new infections. The UK recorded a record 35,928 new infections on Sunday.
While experts stress that there is no evidence that the new strain is more deadly, it is inevitable that more cases will lead to more hospitalizations and deaths linked to the virus.
The new variant contains 23 changes, many of which are associated with the way it binds to and enters cells.
French ban on carriers
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said France’s ban on freight carriers was “slightly surprising” and that he was putting contingency plans in place for Kent, including the opening of a fleet of trucks and the “well-being” of some of those drivers stuck there.
“The Kent Dover-Calais Eurotunnel, what we call the short straits, probably accounts for around 20% of the goods to and from, inside and outside the country,” he told Sky News. “But that’s not the pillar. Most goods enter and leave in unaccompanied containers and these will continue to flow. “
Shapps insisted the public will not notice any shortages “for the most part” due to the ban on trucks, and that the supply of coronavirus vaccines will continue as they arrive via containers that are not available. not affected.
All of these economic disruptions come at a time of enormous uncertainty for the UK, less than two weeks before leaving the EU’s single market and tariff-free customs union on December 31.
Although the UK left the bloc on January 31, it is in a period of transition that effectively sees it complying with EU rules until the end of this year. Talks on a post-Brexit trade relationship are still at an impasse and are expected to resume on Monday.
The British Retail Consortium has warned that shutting down France-UK traffic will create business “difficulties” during the busy Christmas season.
Andrew Opie, BRC’s director of food and sustainability, said any prolonged disruption would be a problem as the end of the Brexit transition period approaches.
“While goods can enter from France, few transport companies will be willing to send trucks and drivers to the UK without the guarantee of being able to return to the EU in a timely manner,” he said. declared.