A further 800 British military personnel have been sent to Kent to help thousands of lorry drivers waiting to cross into France on Christmas Day.
Some 1,100 troops have now been deployed as part of the operation at the English Channel border after French Covid-19 restrictions caused severe disruption at the Port of Dover.
Thousands of hauliers are spending Christmas Day in their cabs despite efforts to clear the backlog of lorries.
We are deploying a further 800 personnel to Kent today to support an increase in the testing capabilities to help clear the backlog of vehicles and ensure traffic can begin to move at a closer to normal pace through Dover. (1)
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) December 25, 2020
Army personnel will be testing drivers for coronavirus and distributing food and water, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.
More than 700 hauliers have been cleared for departure since France reopened its border on Wednesday, and a chorus of beeping horns sounded at Dover on Christmas Eve as those at the front of the queue celebrated finally being able to leave.
However, about 5,000 remain unable to get home yet, despite some progress in testing drivers in their vehicles at nearby Manston Airport, on a closed section of the M20, and in the town of Dover itself.
Some have already spent nearly a week stranded due to the diplomatic impasse.
Traffic was moving smoothly through Dover this morning, with French firefighters drafted in to help test drivers.
South-eastern railway and Network Rail arranged for food to be delivered to drivers stuck in Operation Brock on the M20.
Seven trains carrying crates of food for the hauliers have left London in the past 48 hours, with the Salvation Army distributing the items.
France closed its border last Sunday following the discovery of a fast-spreading mutant Covid-19 strain in the UK. Drivers must now show proof of a negative coronavirus test result before crossing into the country.
The MoD said additional soldiers had been deployed today as part of Operation Rose to support the 300 personnel already there.
“We are deploying a further 800 personnel to Kent today to support an increase in the testing capabilities to help clear the backlog of vehicles and ensure traffic can begin to move at a closer to normal pace through Dover,” the MoD tweeted.
The UK Department for Transport (DfT) said all but three of the 2,367 coronavirus tests issued to hauliers so far had been negative.
I've sent special instructions to the Army to run testing and HGV logistic operations in Kent. Following the disruption caused by the French Govt's sudden imposition of Covid restrictions, foreign hauliers are on the move trying to reach home for Christmas. pic.twitter.com/kPl8RUdaTp
— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) December 24, 2020
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “We need to get the situation in Kent, caused by the French government’s sudden imposition of Covid restrictions, resolved as soon as possible.
“I have today sent special instructions to the Army to take control of testing and HGV management operations in the county. Our aim is to get foreign hauliers home with their families as quickly as we can.
“I know it’s been hard for many drivers cooped up in their cabs at this precious time of year, but I assure them that we are doing our utmost to get them home.”
The UK government said catering vans would provide hot food and drinks to hauliers stranded at Manston, with Kent County Council and volunteer groups providing refreshments to those stuck on the M20.
There are more than 250 toilets at Manston, with a further 32 portable toilets added to existing facilities on the M20.
A Port of Dover spokesman said ferry services ran throughout Christmas Eve night and will continue on Christmas Day to help ease congestion.
Traffic was moving more quickly at the Eurotunnel on Thursday, with around 2,000 lorries expected to depart during the day.