Johnson calls emergency meeting amid UK travel suspensions
London, Dec 21 (efe-epa).- The British prime minister was holding an emergency cabinet meeting on Monday after France closed its ports to cargo and passenger traffic from the United Kingdom, as an increasing number of countries around the world suspended UK flights over fears surrounding a new, highly infectious strain of coronavirus that was detected in southern England last week.
Johnson will chair a meeting of the Cobra emergency government committee in view of the “significant disruption”, especially at the port of Dover in southeast England, where thousands of trucks laden with cargo pass every day to and from France.
Several EU countries, including France, Belgium, Italy, Ireland and the Netherlands, as well as other nations including Canada, Turkey, Morocco and Hong Kong, have suspended UK flights after the British government tightened restrictions in London and southeast England because of an alarming spike in cases of Covid-19, which health experts have tied to a new variant of the highly contagious coronavirus.
CALL TO AVOID DOVER
British authorities have asked truckers carrying cargo to avoid Dover to mitigate traffic congestion at the port, with queues of lorries already growing.
On Sunday evening, France closed its borders with the UK, grounding all flights and ferries, for 48 hours.
British authorities are fearful of the impact on the flow of goods, especially food, from the European Union just a few days before the Christmas holidays.
British transport minister Grant Shapps has asked people, including lorry drivers, to avoid going to the Channel ports as “we expect significant disruption in the area”, adding that his department was working with local authorities in Kent to implement contingency measures to “minimize disruption to traffic in the area”.
PROBLEMS FOR PRODUCT ENTRY BEFORE CHRISTMAS
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has warned that the border closure by France may pose “difficulties” for import and export from the UK “during the busy Christmas period”, although it said that retailers had stocked up on goods ahead of the holiday.
But Andrew Opie, director of Food and Sustainability for the BRC, said in a statement on Sunday that a “prolonged closure would be a problem as the UK enters the final weeks” before the UK’s transition period to leave the EU ends.
“While goods can enter from France, few haulage firms will be willing to send trucks and drivers across to the UK without the guarantee that they can return to the EU in a timely manner” he said.
“This is a key supply route for fresh produce at this time of year,” Opie said, adding that channel crossings usually see up to 10,000 trucks every day at peak periods such as Christmas.
Given this situation, the chief minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, said it is “imperative” that the British government request an extension of the transition period with the EU.
The British Health Minister, Matt Hancock, admitted in statements to the media that the new variant of the coronavirus is “out of control” and did not rule out that the latest Tier 4 restrictions imposed on London and southeastern England may have to be maintained for several months.
The ferry terminal in Dover, in the southeast of England, on Sunday night announced its closure to traffic due to the restrictions imposed in France.
Like Dover, the Eurotunnel, which links Britain and France through a rail tunnel under the Channel, said Sunday night that it had suspended access to its terminal in Folkestone for traffic to the French port of Calais.
The medical advisor of the Health Department in England, Yvonne Doyle, said the sudden rise of Covid-19 infections in the United Kingdom, which reached 35,928 on Sunday, almost double the number counted a week ago, was of “serious concern”.
According to the British scientists, the new strain is up to 70 percent more transmissible. EFE-EPA