Britain shut down the continent on Monday after European countries cut conveyor belts over fears of a new coronavirus strain, wreaking havoc on families, truck drivers and supermarkets just days before the Brexit cliff edge.
France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Russia, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, Israel, India, Grenada and Canada were among those who cut off travel belts after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned of a highly contagious new strain of the virus. was a danger to the country.
Johnson would chair a contingency meeting on Monday to discuss international travel, particularly the flow of freight in and out of the UK. EU officials were also expected to hold negotiations to coordinate their response.
France closed its border to the arrival of people and trucks from Britain and closed one of the main arteries of trade with the European mainland, according to a move, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was surprising.
“We are doing everything we can to get it restarted,” Shapps told Sky. “They have told us they want to restart the carriers as soon as possible.”
As families and truck drivers tried to navigate the travel bans to get home in time for Christmas, Britain’s second-largest supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s, said gaps would appear on the shelves within days if conveyor belts were not quickly restored to mainland Europe.
“If nothing changes, we will see gaps in the coming days on lettuce, some lettuce leaves, cauliflower, broccoli and citrus fruits – all of which are imported from the continent at this time of year,” Sainsbury said.
Seafood producers in Scotland said they had tons of perishable products stranded on roads when the French border was closed. Disruptions in the UK will also hamper deliveries to Ireland.
Hong Kong will also ban all flights arriving from the UK from midnight and will be the first city in Asia to do so. Asian countries including Japan and South Korea said they were closely monitoring the new tribe.
Brexit contingency plans
Britain’s Shapps said it was his priority to have the bans lifted as soon as possible, but given British preparations for the end of the Brexit transition period, the country was well positioned for disruption.
Johnson on Saturday suspended Christmas plans for millions of British people because of what he said was a more contagious strain of the coronavirus, although he said there was no evidence that it was either more deadly or caused a more serious illness.
The new variant contains 23 different changes, many of them associated with how it binds to cells and enters them. Shapps said Britain had done some of the best global analysis of the virus’ mutations, so it was easy to see what was already widespread in other countries.
>> Explanation: Why does new coronavirus variant cause concern?
The British government unleashed plans it had to pile up trucks in the southeastern county of Kent – part of its plans for potential disruption when Britain leaves the EU circulation with or without a trade agreement at. 23 on 31 December.
Trucks are stacked on the M20 motorway through Kent and head towards the ports, which are closed to normal traffic. A nearby airport will also be used to hold goods.
The government has urged everyone to avoid traveling to Kent, which hosts many of the canals’ ports. Dover in particular sees around 10,000 trucks pass by every day and accounts for around 20% of the UK’s merchandise trade.
Eurotunnel, the rail service that connects the UK with the European mainland, has also suspended services.
“Sick man in Europe”
“Sick Man of Europe”, said the Daily Mirror on its front page next to a picture of Johnson while the Sun newspaper said “French show no merci”.
The closure of the Channel Tunnel and ports for further travel to France will affect the export of goods such as fish and shellfish from Scotland to Europe and the import of food to British supermarkets if, as expected, European drivers refuse to travel.
Jon Swallow, head of the British logistics group Jordon Freight, said France’s move would deter European drivers from coming to the UK both now and after the end of the year for fear of getting stuck.
“This is a serious situation because the stored goods expected here are for Christmas and to help stabilize January,” he told Reuters. “This shows how fragile the cross-channel road is.”
Shapps, the transport secretary, insisted that the public will not notice any shortage “for the most part” as a result of the ban on trucks and that the supply of coronavirus vaccines will continue when they arrive via unaffected containers.
But the British retail consortium warned that the closure of traffic between France and Britain would create trade problems during the lively Christmas period.
“Retailers have stockpiled goods before Christmas that should prevent immediate problems,” said Andrew Opie, head of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium.
“However, any extended closure of the French border would be a problem when Britain enters the final weeks before the crossing ends.”
The trade association Logistics UK has urged people to stay calm and not rush to supermarkets to store goods.
“Shoppers should not panic about buying,” says Alex Veitch, General Manager at Logistics UK. “Retailers will do their utmost to ensure that there are stocks in the system, including fresh produce, and it is important that we remember that incoming traffic still has access to the UK.”
( Jowharwith REUTERS, AP)