MORE than 1,500 lorries are STILL trapped in the queue chaos at Kent as fears over food shortages mount because of the French border blockade.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said today ministers were scrambling to try to ease the scenes of bedlam as hundreds of hauliers were stuck on the M20 in a desperate bid to cross the border.
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But retail chiefs have warned that time is running short to sort out the crisis – and stores will start to run out of supplies unless the French back down by tomorrow.
France slammed their borders closed on Sunday night because of the super-spreading mutation of coronavirus which caused London and the South East of England to be thrown into Tier 4 lockdown.
This morning, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps issued a plea to hauliers to avoid the jam-packed crossing.
He wrote on Twitter: "A reminder to all hauliers that the French have not re-opened the border to France.
"Please do not travel to Kent as you will be unable to cross and may become stuck for longer."
Ministers are looking at plans to test every single driver trying to make their way to France in an attempt to ease the pressure on the crossing.
Ms Patel said this morning there more than 650 lorries piled up on the M20, and a further 873 which have been pulled into Manston airport to stop the roads being completely blocked by trucks.
It's a massive jump from the 170 lorries Boris Johnson said were still stuck waiting to cross at Dover yesterday.
The Home Secretary told BBC Radio 4: "I think it's important to recognise that the numbers fluctuate."
She said while discussions are "underway" with the French, to try and force them to open up the border, Ms Patel refused to say whether there was a chance the chaos could be eased today.
Getting drivers' tested would be a priority to unblock the roads, Ms Patel said.
But French President Emmanual Macron has demanded PCR tests be used rather than the rapid-result lateral flow tests, meaning it could be days before the trucks could start to move again.
"Discussions about the type of testing will be very much (underway), those types of discussions will take place between Transport Secretaries here and in Paris.
"It's quite clear, we ask passengers to take tests before they get on airplanes, it's quite clear that mass testing and testing is the way forward.
"So we will find pro-active and productive ways, which, if we have to introduce testing, to make sure that happens."
It comes as
- All of the UK could be thrown into Tier 4 lockdown in New Year as mutant strain spread "everywhere"
- The number of Covid patients in hospital could hit April peak by New Year
- More than 1,5000 lorries are piled up at Dover as ministers scramble to test every driver
- Boris Johnson warned Brits to "shop normally" amidst fears of food shortages
- Retail chiefs demanded lorry chaos be solved by Wednesday to prevent stores running out of food
The Home Secretary stressed fresh fruit was coming in through other routes across the UK as panicked retail bosses called for the blockade to be eased today.
Director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium Andrew Opie warned the mayhem must be sorted out by Wednesday to avoid disruption.
He told BBC Radio 4 that "borders really need to be running pretty much freely from tomorrow to assure us that there won't be any disruption."
He said this morning: "There is a problem potentially directly after Christmas and that is really in fresh produce, so we're talking here about things like salad, vegetables, fresh fruit, of which the vast majority come from Europe at this time."
Mr Opie said many of the lorries stuck in Kent are empty and need to return to places like Spain to pick up the next load of fresh food such as strawberries and raspberries.
"They need to get back within the next day or so, otherwise we will see disruption," he said.
He added: "As long as it can be cleared today, there'll be minimal impact for consumers … but those lorries that are stuck in Kent, they do need to get back within the next day."
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