France to reopen border with UK

Paris, Dec 22 (EFE).- France said Tuesday that will it reopen its border with the United Kingdom while requiring people entering the country to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test.

The announcement from Prime Minister Jean Castex’s office came as hundreds of truck drivers prepared to spend a third night in their vehicles in the southeastern English county of Kent, where they found themselves stranded after France decided to seal the border in reaction to the emergence in the UK of a new mutation of the virus.

“Planes, boats and Eurostars (passenger trains) will resume service tomorrow morning. French nationals, residents in France and those who have a legitimate reason must present a negative test,” Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said on Twitter.

Officials in Paris that the “legitimate reason” authorization covers people spending less than 24 hours on French soil en route to other EU destinations and transportation workers, including truck drivers.

Those seeking to enter France must have tested negative for coronavirus within the preceding 72 hours.

The new border regime is to remain in place through at least Jan. 6.

France closed the border at midnight Sunday, putting a halt to passenger rail service via the Eurotunnel and cross-Channel ferry service.

A range of other countries, both in the EU and globally, suspended all flights to and from the UK as a precautionary measure.

The border closure fostered the development of a unified EU response to the new Covid-19 mutation and “constructive bilateral exchanges” between Paris and London, the French government said Tuesday.

France’s decision to reopen the border with conditions followed an appeal from the European Commission for the EU’s member states to move quickly to lift the bans on the entry of passengers and goods from the UK.

The EU’s executive arm said that while “all non-essential travel to and from the UK should be discouraged … essential travel and transit of passengers should be facilitated.”

“Flight and train bans should be discontinued given the need to ensure essential travel and avoid supply chain disruptions,” the commission said in a statement.

“Blanket travel bans should not prevent thousands of EU and UK citizens from returning to their homes,” the Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, said.

The British government estimated Tuesday that 945 trucks were stranded near the port of Dover, although media reports cited a significantly higher number.

Speaking to the BBC on Tuesday morning, the managing director of the British Association of Road Transporters (RHA), Rod McKenzie, said that the truckers’ “morale was very poor” after having to spend “a second night parked up somewhere, possibly on the motorway, possibly somewhere else, trying to cross the channel. Many of them are European drivers trying to get home for Christmas.”

McKenzie said that Kent County Council had offered each of them one cereal bar, an effort which he dismissed as “a pretty poor effort.”

“Major question marks over health, cleanliness and what provision is being out in place for these drivers to eat,” he said.

“We are not treating the truck drivers well as a country in these very, very difficult conditions that they’re in at the moment,” he added.

Monday evening, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he was working with French President Emmanuel Macron to resolve the issue and get freight traffic flowing in both directions “in a Covid secure way” as quickly as possible.

“I want to stress that we in the UK fully understand the anxieties of our friends about Covid, their anxieties about the new variant,” the prime minister said.

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