Why are UK ports in chaos?
- At 11pm last night the French government announced a travel ban on British lorries, stopping hauliers from arriving in the country for 48 hours.
- The ban plunged British ports into chaos with thousands of lorries that were meant to travel across the English Channel on Monday told to stay away from Kent ports.
- HGVs carrying fresh food and goods turned up at Dover this morning and were greeted with glowing signs saying ‘French borders closed’ and were turned away.
- Although lorries were still allowed to arrive in the UK, the French ban and other Europe shutdowns meant that drivers could be left stranded in Britain.
- This led to fears hauliers would stay away, raising issues with the supply of fresh food and coronavirus vaccines.
- The French ban added to pre-existing port issues triggered by the pandemic, the Christmas demand and fears over a No-Deal Brexit.
- On Monday morning, the Port of Dover confirmed incoming freights were still scheduled to arrive today.
- The French government also confirmed in a statement that it was working on protocols to ‘resume movement’.
- However, there are fears the damage may have already been done with pictures from across the UK showing panic-buying underway as shoppers stock up ahead of Christmas.
- Officials have also warned the chaos at the ports could last until Christmas Eve.
Britons could be facing a shortage of food over the festive period with the port chaos caused by France’s coronavirus travel ban set to last until Christmas Eve and Emmanuel Macron insisting lorry drivers must register a negative Covid test before being allowed into the country.
France imposed an inbound travel ban from 11pm last night amid the spread of the mutant Covid-19 strain which plunged London and the South East into Tier Four.
The ban forced Dover to close to all freight vehicles leaving the UK for 48 hours, plunging the ports into chaos with 23 mile long queues and sparking panic buying across Britain amid fears of a shortage of fresh food and doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
Some 10,000 lorries a day travel through Dover, which accounts for 20 per cent of all goods brought and sold in UK.
The borders are set to reopen with the Port of Dover saying inbound lorries are now coming into the UK and the French government pledging to ‘resume movement’ as soon as possible.
However, the top French haulage union has stoked fears of a driver strike, with an official warning ‘no trucker wants to deliver’ to Britain amid the new strain.
And a Eurotunnel official added that he didn’t expect British lorries to arrive in France until Christmas Eve.
Countries including Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Austria, Denmark, Finland and Ireland, as well as several non-European nations, have announced restrictions on UK travel following the outbreak of the new strain across South East England.
France indicated this morning it will open up to lorries from Britain again, but has confusingly demanded drivers register a negative test.
The testing plan has triggered more chaos with a French official saying a PCR test will be used and Macron saying drivers would be tested upon arrival.
A PCR test can take two to three days to come back, suggesting Britain would be required to test the drivers before they leave for France. But, if they are tested upon arrival, it suggests a lateral flow test will be used, which French border authorities could administer and get results for within 15 minutes.
The contradictory comments from the French government have added to the confusion surrounding Britain’s ports with John Keefe, from Eurotunnel, warning lorries wouldn’t be able to arrive in France until Christmas Eve.
He said: ‘What we are waiting for the French to announce is what the protocol will be to restart movement in the UK to France direction.
‘We expect it will be something around testing,’ he said, speculating that it could be something akin to a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours of travelling would be sufficient to cross the border. We are hoping that it’s going to be something along those lines then people will be able to start thinking about travel again from Wednesday-Thursday.’
Adding to the chaos, Vanessa Ibarlucea, spokeswoman for France’s FNTR national road haulage federation, said: ‘They [drivers] are stuck in lorry parks with no toilets – it’s becoming a catastrophe. No driver wants to deliver to the UK now, so the UK is going to see its freight supply dry up.’
Thousands of lorries that were meant to travel across the English Channel on Monday were told to stay away from Kent ports and HGVs turning up at Dover this morning were greeted with glowing signs saying ‘French borders closed’ and were turned away.
The travel ban led to people and goods from the UK being blocked from entering France via air, sea or the Channel Tunnel with fresh food left to rot on roads and in traffic queues.
It also led to concerns that the chaos could disrupt supplies of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to the UK which is made in Belgium – with military aircraft set to airlift supplies if the ban lasts for longer than 48 hours.
The ban added to several pre-existing issues already gripping the ports, including stockpiling fears over a No-Deal Brexit, increased demand for goods over Christmas and a lack of shipping containers amid the coronavirus pandemic.
It also triggered panic-buying, with shoppers queueing at supermarkets from 5.50am this morning to stock up on essentials following the news.
Sainsbury’s has warned of several popular items being unavailable over the coming days: ‘If nothing changes, we will start to see gaps over the coming days on lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit – all of which are imported from the Continent at this time of year. We hope the UK and French governments can come to a mutually agreeable solution that prioritises the immediate passage of produce and any other food at the ports.’
Shellfish producers in Scotland also said they had tonnes of perishable products stranded on roads as the French border was closed.
Despite the chaos, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted people ‘wouldn’t notice’ any supermarket shortages: ‘The absolute key is to get this resolved as soon as possible. I’ll be speaking again to my opposite number Jean-Baptiste (Djebbari) later this morning.
‘There’s a meeting taking place actually right now in Europe about it, in order to co-ordinate approaches. It’s not really in anybody’s particular interest to not have hauliers going across, not least because they are mostly European hauliers and the goods are mostly theirs, so they will not want them perishing any more than we would want the border closed.’
He also attempted to calm fears about the wider impact of the French decision: ‘The supply chain is pretty robust in as much as you get variations in supply all the time. For the most part, people won’t notice it.’
Mr Johnson faced demands to recall Parliament to address the crisis, which follows the introduction of a new Tier 4 level of lockdown on London and large parts of south-east England.
He will hold talks with Ministers today as he chairs the Government’s Cobra civil contingencies committee amid warnings of ‘significant disruption’ around the Channel ports in Kent.
Kent Police implemented Operation Stack to ease congestion, while the Department for Transport said the disused Manston Airport was also being prepared as another contingency measure against the anticipated level of disruption, with plans to store 4,000 stranded HGVs there.
Countries including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, and Bulgaria announced restrictions on UK travel following the outbreak of the new strain across South East England.
India announced this morning that all flights from Britain would be suspended until December 31 and Hong Kong is also due to ban all flights from midnight. Asian nations including Japan and South Korea said they were closely monitoring the new strain.
Australia said on Monday it had detected cases of the new virulent coronavirus strain. Two travellers from the UK to Australia’s New South Wales state were found carrying the mutated variant of the virus.
French health minister Olivier Veran said on Monday that it was possible the news strain was already circulating in France, although recent tests had not detected it in the country.
‘It is entirely possible that the virus is circulating in France,’ Veran said, after his country introduced the ban on British lorries.
Among those at the Port of Dover are 80 workers who had travelled down from the West Midlands on a coach to go home for Christmas. They are now stuck for at least next two days and have nowhere to stay, with all hotels closed.
It comes as:
- Italy becomes the fifth country to spot mutated Covid virus after infected British traveller flew to Rome
- Calls for US authorities to join 32 nations blocking all visitors from UK amid outbreak of new Covid strain
- Tory MPs urge Government to ‘come clean’, recall Parliament and present evidence on mutant Covid strain
- Sainsbury’s warns of shortage in salad, broccoli and citrus fruits as panic-buyers queue for supermarkets
- More than £45 billion is wiped off FTSE 100 as markets fall 2.6% down this morning after Tier 4 introduction
- ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson warns draconian measures may be needed for months – even up to Easter
- Streets and stations are eerily empty as Tier 4 leaves London showing little sign of life in run up to Christmas
Lorries parked on the M20 near Folkestone, Kent, as part of Operation Stack after the Port of Dover was closed and access to the Eurotunnel terminal suspended following the French government’s announcement that it will not accept any passengers arriving from the UK for the next 48 hours
Security officers and police at a closed entrance of the Port of Dover after France announced the travel ban last night
The shelves were emotied of fresh stock as large numbers of shoppers descended on supermarkets this morning amid news of a French travel ban. The Port of Dover has confirmed lorries carrying essential items are now inbound from France
Tier Four until EASTER: ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson warns draconian Tier Four measures may be needed for months after Matt Hancock hints millions more could be plunged into lockdown with Covid now ‘out of control’
Millions of families face living under draconian Tier Four restrictions until Easter, according to the scientist whose grim modelling spooked No10 into sending Britain into its first lockdown back in March.
‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson, an Imperial College London epidemiologist who quit his role as a Government adviser after breaking rules to see his married lover, today claimed the harshest curbs could ‘possibly’ have to stay until the spring and admitted Britain was now in a race to vaccinate people.
He warned Britain’s situation was ‘not looking optimistic right now’. It comes after Matt Hancock yesterday warned the Tier Four restrictions could be extended nationwide, after the Health Secretary said the virus was now ‘out of control’ following the emergence of a fast-spreading new variant.
Boris Johnson sparked fury on Saturday night after he cancelled Christmas for more than 16million people living in London and across the South East. Shops, gyms, hairdressers and beauty salons were ordered to shut again, with residents told not to leave Tier Four.
In his embarrassing U-turn, the Prime Minister – who last week claimed it would be ‘inhuman’ to cancel Christmas – also slashed a festive amnesty from five days to just one for the rest of the UK.
It comes after it was revealed yesterday that Professor Ferguson played a major role in researching the variant that triggered the dramatic cancellation of Christmas. He was among those attending a meeting of Nervtag – the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group – to discuss the new mutant strain on Friday.
The Imperial expert said it was now a simple race to ‘get vaccines in people’s arms’ because the virus couldn’t be stopped any other way.
And a colleague of his, infectious diseases expert Professor Wendy Barclay, said it was possible that if the virus mutates enough the immunity produced by vaccines might not work, although there is no proof that this is true of the new strain.
Transport Secretary Grant Shaps insisted that vaccines not be affected by the travel ban, telling Sky News today: ‘Most vaccine doesn’t come via what is called ‘Ro-Ro’, roll-on, roll-off, which is what we are talking about here.
‘In other words, it’s not usually accompanied by a driver, by a haulier. It comes on those containers. To put this into context, there are about 6,000 vehicles we would expect, just under in Dover today, probably 4,000 would have gone across from Dover, just under about 2,000 on the Eurotunnel.
‘But there is probably something like 32,000 units that would have been the daily total, so the vast majority – including virtually all the vaccine – actually comes via container and there are good supplies in the meantime. So this won’t have an impact on the vaccination programme.’
Mr Shapps admitted that France’s ban on freight hauliers was ‘slightly surprising’, adding: ‘Immediately as soon as the French said, perhaps slightly surprisingly that they would stop hauliers, rather than just passengers, we were in touch with a group known as the Kent Resilience Forum. They are well used to planning for exactly these kind of circumstances
‘We will be opening up Manston as a lorry park today and providing welfare for some of those drivers as well, while also being in very close contact with the French over what will happen next.
‘The Kent Dover-to-Calais Eurotunnel, what we call the short straits, is probably about 20% of goods going to and from, in and out of the country.
‘But it’s not the mainstay. Most goods actually come in and out by unaccompanied containers and those will continue to flow.’
Asked about what the shortages could be, Mr Shapps said: ‘Obviously we don’t want these links to be closed for too long, but it’s not unusual for them to be closed and disrupted.
‘In the short term it’s not a specific problem. But of course the key is to get it resolved.’
The chief executive of the Road Haulage Association (RHA), Richard Burnett, said the disruption could cause problems with ‘fresh food supply’ in the run-up to Christmas.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘With it being so close to Christmas we’re looking at 48 hours at this point in time in terms of the restrictions, we’re likely to see Operation Stack building in terms of numbers of vehicles on the UK side and that might be a deterrent for EU hauliers to want to come so close to Christmas and end up being stranded here, that’s part of the challenge that we’re facing today.’
Food and Drink Federation chief executive Ian Wright said last night: ‘Tonight’s suspension of accompanied freight traffic from the UK to France has the potential to cause serious disruption to UK Christmas fresh food supplies and exports of UK food and drink.
‘Continental truckers will not want to travel here if they have a real fear of getting marooned. The Government must very urgently persuade the French government to exempt accompanied freight from its ban.’
He told BBC Breakfast this morning: ‘The problem is the return journey of drivers coming to the UK. If they cannot be guaranteed either that they will get out of the UK because of the congestion or that they will be able to secure a return journey full of whatever product it is, that’s going to make it much more unlikely for them to come in the first place.
‘And, over time, because the transport system requires these round trips, that will reduce the ability of us to bring food into the country after Christmas if that takes effect.
Tory MPs urge the Government to ‘come clean’, recall Parliament and present them with ALL of the evidence about the mutant coronavirus strain
Boris Johnson is facing a mounting Tory rebellion over his latest coronavirus crackdown as Conservative MPs demand the Government recall Parliament so ministers can ‘come clean’ over the new mutant strain of the disease.
Senior Tory figures have blasted the Government’s decision to tighten Covid curbs over Christmas and to impose a new Tier 4 lockdown after MPs went on holiday.
They claimed the timing of the announcement by the Prime Minister on Saturday was ‘convenient’ amid accusations Number 10 knew last week it was going to increase restrictions.
Tory MPs said this morning the Government had again been ‘bounced by the science’ despite experts having previously got their forecasts and modelling wrong.
They accused Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance of ‘stepping back into the shadows when it suits them’ to leave ministers to take the flak for controversial decisions.
The growing revolt came as Mr Johnson held crisis talks with ministers after France banned lorries carrying freight from the UK and countries around the world ended flights to Britain amid fears of the new coronavirus variant.
‘We need a pragmatic solution that gets drivers across the border and into the UK by whatever route in exactly the same way we had throughout the lockdown in March and in the earlier part of the year.’
Road Haulage Association (RHA) boss Richard Burnett, said the ‘fresh food supply where it’s short shelf life and there will be product on its way now, that’s where the challenge kind of comes from’ after France banned lorries carrying freight from the UK amid fears over the new mutant coronavirus strain.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The concern that we do have though is that with it being so close to Christmas we’re looking at 48 hours at this point in time in terms of the restrictions, we’re likely to see Operation Stack building in terms of numbers of vehicles on the UK side and that might be a deterrent for EU hauliers to want to come so close to Christmas and end up being stranded here, that’s part of the challenge that we’re facing today.
‘I think what Government are looking at, at this point in time, is actually bringing forward their contingency plans that they’d got laid out for the New Year in terms of (post-Brexit) transition and potentially if we start to see a significant number of vehicles parked on the M20 then we may well actually open up some of the truck parks in Kent, possibly Manston in order to take high levels of vehicles.
‘I did have a conversation with Grant Shapps (Transport Secretary) last night and he has assured me that he’s working hard with his French counterparts to ensure this issue is resolved as quickly as possible.’
The leader of Kent County Council said a disused airport could be brought in to cope with queues of lorries coming into the county.
Speaking on Times Radio, Roger Gough said: ‘I think the Government has done what is essential, which is to seek to discourage vehicles from coming to Kent.
‘That was in fact something that we’ve been pushing on very hard in relation to the end of transition.
‘We had plans pretty well set up for coping with the 7,000 vehicles, which was what the Government called its reasonable worst-case scenario.
‘What we were concerned about was what might happen if you got to that point and the vehicles kept coming.
‘The Department for Transport, I understand, is due to bring in the use of Manston Airport, the old airport site, which would be the next stage.
‘I think that’s where we’ll be heading next in terms of managing the issue, in terms of lorries.’
The general manager of trade group Logistics UK, formerly the Freight Transport Association, has urged the public not to panic-buy following France’s freight lorry ban.
Alex Veitch said the Government needs to work with EU partners to come up with a pragmatic solution to give the French and other authorities confidence that drivers are Covid-free.
Lorries queue during operation stack on the M20 towards Dover after France introduced the new travel ban on British hauliers
Sedat from Turkey eats a traditional breakfast out of his lorry as he waits in a service station on the M20 on December 21 amid the port chaos
Claudio from Italy installs a satellite dish on the side of his cab to watch TV as he waits for travel restrictions to be lifted
80 workers who have travelled down from the West Midlands to go home for Christmas are stuck on a coach at Dover today
Italy becomes FIFTH country to spot mutated Covid virus after infected British traveller flew to Rome
Italy has detected a patient infected with the mutated strain of coronavirus that emerged in Britain, becoming the fifth country outside the UK to report a case.
The Italian patient flew from the UK to Rome in the last few days with his partner, who did not test positive, Italy’s health ministry said. The pair are now isolating.
So far, cases of the new variant, said to be up to 70 per cent more infectious than regular Covid, have been spotted in Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia and Belgium.
In November there were nine instances of the strain in Denmark and one in Australia, while the Netherlands announced it had detected a case this month. There have also been unconfirmed reports of at least one case in Belgium.
France’s health minister said this morning it was ‘entirely possible’ the version of the virus was already circulating in France despite tests not picking it up yet, while Northern Ireland’s First Minister said it was ‘probable’ the strain was there, too.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said: ‘This is why we are saying at the current time, please, there is no need to panic-buy, there are goods available in the shops, retailers are doing everything they can.
‘But at the same time it is serious and we do need a resolution as quickly as possible.’
Italian authorities announced the mutant strain had been detected in a traveller who recently returned to the country from the UK.
With France suspending all traffic from the UK for 48 hours, it raised fears that trade flows could be severely disrupted while passengers across Europe could be left stranded in the final run-up to Christmas.
A No 10 spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister will chair a Cobra meeting tomorrow to discuss the situation regarding international travel, in particular the steady flow of freight into and out of the UK.
‘Further meetings are happening this evening and tomorrow morning to ensure robust plans are in place.’
Lorry drivers stuck in queues near the Port of Dover shared their frustrations.
They were turned away from the main entrance to the port by two staff members wearing Hi-Vis jackets shouting ‘it’s closed’.
Haulier Matt Richards, 50, from Wolverhampton was stuck in his vehicle from 8pm after he was trapped in by other vans.
Mr Richard’s, who had a cargo full of Land Rover parts intended for the continent, said: ‘I was driving towards the Port when my phone started pinging about the closure.
‘It’s absolutely ridiculous to make such a last minute snap decision. They should have given everyone a bit more time to prepare.
‘I pulled into the garage at 8pm when I realised I wasn’t going to get across through Port but then these other vans have blocked me in so I can’t get out.
‘I only want to get home to Wolverhampton now.’
Mr Richard’s, who delivered two £1million Covid-19 testing machines to Toulouse, France last week, was set to bring another to Italy by December 28 but now fears he won’t be able to make it.
‘I’ve been driving to Europe for 30 years and I remember getting stuck in Romania in the 1990s ahead of Christmas when there was a hard border.
‘So I do feel sorry for all these people stuck in an unknown country not knowing whether they’re going to be able to get home to see their loved ones.
‘But we should never have been in this situation in the first place if everyone had been a bit stricter with the coronavirus regulations.
‘The only thing that can contain this is a full lockdown.’
Van driver Keith Silvestre, 42, also from Wolverhampton was carrying urgent gas parts to the Continent when he found out the Port was closing.
This shopper was seen with a very full trolley just days before Christmas as people rushed to the shops for festive supplies
Stocks of loo roll were in short supply this morning, echoing scenes from earlier in the pandemic when panic buyers stripped the shelves of toilet tissue
Washing powers and products also appeared to be popular products with shoppers who flocked to the shops this morning
Long lines started forming outside of this Waitrose superstore in Henleaze near Brisol this morning as people tried to stock up on festive supplies
After also being stuck at the BP garage for more than 14 hours, he said: ‘I’ve just had to abort the job entirely.
‘The government have a lot to answer for. But more so the French government.
America on brink of banning Britons over mutant Covid strain? Calls for US authorities to join 32 nations blocking all visitors from UK as six flights a day continue to cross Atlantic
The US could ban travellers from Britain as flights continue to cross the Atlantic Ocean despite major fears over the new
New York Governor
Other countries halting flights arriving from Britain include Canada, Kuwait, Turkey, Morocco, Czech Republic, Slovakia, El Salvador, Romania, Iran, India and Israel.
Further nations following suit are Colombia, Hong Kong, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia.
US authorities have so far said they are looking ‘very carefully’ into the virus variant spreading in the UK, while indicating that a ban on travel was not on the cards.
Boris Johnson will hold crisis talks with senior ministers and officials after France banned hauliers carrying freight across the channel amid fears over the new strain.
Foreign countries have banned flights from the UK as an emergency response to the emergence of the mutant coronavirus, which spreads faster than previous strains.
The US currently bars most non-American residents who have been in Europe in the previous 14 days, with the restrictions having been in place since March.
Nearly all of Europe still bans most US travellers from visiting, while Britain allows American visits but requires a two-week quarantine on arrival.
‘I hope it’s not political but it does feel like it could be payback for something.
‘It’s like what we did to them during the first lockdown with the quarantine for incoming travellers.
‘As soon as we announced this mutant strain they’ve all panicked and made a rash decision. Its probably over there already anyway.’
A coach was parked in a live lane of the A20 outside the petrol station.
It was carrying around 40 Romanian nationals, including young children, back to their homeland for Christmas.
Passenger Alex Enusoiu, 30, was heading home after working in a Sainsbury’s in Birmingham during the pandemic.
He said: ‘We’ve been stuck for 12 hours. There is no place else for us to go.
‘We are trying to keep morale high on the bus and everyone feeling good.
‘But we do not know whether we will make it home for Christmas to see our families anymore.
‘I’m not sure what’s going to happen next and people are worried that we could be stuck here.’
Damien Doherty, 43, was waiting to collect an empty container after dropping off a crate of fish in Boulogne, France.
The trucker from Donegal, Ireland said: ‘I was literally the last lorry in the Port last night before they shut it. Thankfully I managed to get it shipped out in time as it’s a very expensive load of perishable fish. Now I’ve been stuck here ever since. My wife is worried sick I won’t be home for Christmas.
‘As it’s an empty container, I don’t think it’s a priority for me to pick it back up. But I’m hoping I’ll be out of here by 9pm tonight.
‘It’s a very strange decision for the French government to make. It definitely feels political rather than practical.’
Eric Johnson, 50, Dave King, 48, and Dean Hammond, 31, all from Birmingham, dropped off their cargo at the Port of Dover at around 10am.
They had hoped to bring the Caterpillar heavy machinery parts to Lokeren, Belgium.
But now they face a frantic dash home to enjoy Christmas with their families.
Mr King said sarcastically: ‘I’m feeling absolutely ecstatic about this. It’s just what we needed after a hard year.
‘We’ve been told we won’t be able to go over for at least two days so it’s going to be cutting it very fine to be back for Christmas.
‘It’s all politics really and seems like they’re using the virus as an excuse. If you don’t play their game, this is what you get.’
Mr Johnson said: ‘We are just waiting to find out what happens now.
‘Apparently all the laybys nearby are booked up and the truck stops are basically full too.
‘For a lot of us getting here later on, there’s nowhere else to go.
‘As long as I’m back home by 11.30am on Christmas day for my turkey lunch, I don’t care.
‘These things do unfortunately happen when you’re in logistics – it’s not often very logical.’
Mr Hammond said: ‘All we can do now is have a walk to stretch our legs and get some food. But this miserable weather makes that a chore too.
‘The fact this is tier four and everything is shut makes it even harder. There’s nowhere for us to go.
‘I just hope I’m back home in time for Christmas. I still believe we can make it in time.’
Santos Filipe, 54, brought a cargo of vegetables to England from Spain at 11am on Monday morning with the intention of returning the same afternoon.
People braved the rain to wait in line and do their shopping earlier than normal before Christmas Day at the Henleaze Waitrose store
Staple items like bread were in short supply at this Iceland supermarket in north London this morning
But he now fears he may not be able to return home to native Portugal to enjoy the festivities.
He said: ‘We all feel awful that we might miss Christmas after everything this terrible year has given us.
‘I have had to turn off my emotions. I’m trying not to let it get to me.
‘They should have shut the border as soon as they heard of this new strain of the coronavirus.
Nicola Sturgeon demands Brexit delay: Scottish leader says new Covid strain makes it ‘unconscionable’ for Britain to leave EU when transition ends on Dec 31
Nicola Sturgeon has said it is ‘imperative’ that the Prime Minister tries to get an extension to the Brexit transition period after the discovery of a faster-spreading coronavirus strain.
Scotland’s First Minister said the UK faces a ‘profoundly serious situation’ because of the virus mutation and warned it would be ‘unconscionable’ to leave the European Union at the end of the year.
The Brexit transition period is due to end on December 31 but Ms Sturgeon has called for an extension amid strict new lockdown measures to try to tackle the new coronavirus strain.
She wrote on Twitter: ‘It’s now imperative that PM seeks an agreement to extend the Brexit transition period. The new Covid strain – & the various implications of it – means we face a profoundly serious situation, & it demands our 100% attention.
‘It would be unconscionable to compound it with Brexit.’
However, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted this morning that the transition period would not be looked at.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘I think the one thing which could actually add fuel to the fire would be ending something that everyone’s known is ending for a very long time, which is the end of the transition period which completes on the 31st December, so absolutely not, no.
‘The important thing is that businesses continue to prepare, that individuals are prepared and as I say, as it happens, it’s because we’ve got some of those contingencies in place, for example being able to open up Manston as a lorry park for what’s actually happening today, that planning is in place, because of all the work that’s gone on with the Kent Resilience Forum and others preparing for the end of the transition, in any case.’
‘Or they should be testing all drivers before they leave while stopping normal passengers from travelling.
‘We are key workers who have helped keep the world going throughout this pandemic and we are repaid with these rash decisions.
‘I don’t know how long this will take. They said we may get information this nmorning but we were shown papers at the border which said it would be at nleast two days.’
Remi Martysz, from Kent-based logistics firm Salvatori, said France’s decision to close the border to UK lorries would cause lots of disruption to businesses and workers.
He said: ‘It is very disruptive and will impact businesses and personal mwelfare of many involved at many different levels, not great news and definitely very bad timing.’
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urged people including hauliers to stay away from the area around the Channel ports.
‘We expect significant disruption in the area. My department is urgently working with Highways England and Kent Council on contingency measures to minimise traffic disruption in the area,’ he said.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) warned the closure of France to UK traffic would create ‘difficulties’ for UK imports and exports in the busy Christmas period.
Andrew Opie, the BRC’s director of food and sustainability, said any ‘prolonged’ disruption would be a problem in the run-up to the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.
‘While goods can enter from France, few haulage firms will be willing to send trucks and drivers across to the UK without a guarantee 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.
‘We urge the UK Government and the EU to find a pragmatic solution to this as soon as possible, to prevent disruption for consumers.
‘Retailers have stocked up on goods ahead of Christmas which should prevent immediate problems.
‘However, any prolonged closure of the French border would be a problem as the UK enters the final weeks before the transition ends on December 31.’
The British Retail Consortium previously urged shoppers not to ‘clear out’ the shelves amid concerns over a no deal Brexit.
Earlier this month they said retailers are ‘increasing the stock of tins, toilet rolls and other longer life products so there will be sufficient supply of essential products’.
They hopes to avoid a repeat of scenes seen earlier in the pandemic, when panic buying led to empty supermarket shelves and restrictions on key items.
Supermarkets previously limited the sale of key items such as toilet roll, and staples such as rice, flour and pasta.
But the French travel ban will lead to shortages, the industry experts admitted.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was ‘imperative’ the UK Government sought an extension to the Brexit transition period.
‘The new Covid strain – and the various implications of it – means we face a profoundly serious situation, and it demands our 100 per cent attention,’ she said. ‘It would be unconscionable to compound it with Brexit.’
Germany, which holds the rotating EU presidency, announced it was calling emergency talks on Monday to co-ordinate the response of the bloc’s 27 member states.
It came after the Irish government said it was imposing a 48-hour ban on flights from Britain while ferries would be restricted to freight only.
The Netherlands said it will stop flights from the UK at least until the end of the year while Belgium has imposed a 24-hour ban on flights and rail links while it assesses the situation.
Italy is prohibiting entry to the country by anyone who has been in the UK in the last 14 days and flights are banned until January 6 while Austria, the Czech Republic, El Salvador, Turkey and Canada also imposed new restrictions.
Countries reacted after Mr Johnson announced on Saturday that the new variant was up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the original strain as he put London and parts of the South East and East of England into a two-week Christmas lockdown, with nearly 18 million people in a new Tier 4.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted the new variant coronavirus was ‘out of control’ and said the new restrictions may have to remain in place for months.
Concerns about the rapid spread of the disease were underlined with the publication of the latest official figures showing there had been a further 35,928 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK as of 9am on Sunday.
Millions of people have been forced to tear up their festive plans, with Mr Johnson effectively cancelling Christmas for those in Tier 4.
Passengers at London St Pancras train station queue to board Eurostar trains to Paris last night before the border was closed
Staff board the last scheduled Eurostar from London to Paris ahead of travel restrictions imposed by the French last night
Passengers at London’s Heathrow Airport attempted to make the last flight to Dublin last night before the Covid-19 travel ban
In the rest of England, Christmas easing is severely curtailed, with households allowed to gather for just one day – Christmas Day itself – rather than the five days previously planned, while Scotland and Wales are also restricting Christmas ‘bubbles’ to a single day.
And at an emergency meeting late on Sunday night, the Northern Ireland Executive agreed to reduce the five day Christmas bubbling arrangements to just one day.
Heathrow chaos as hundreds try to cram onto last plane to Dublin after more than a dozen countries ban ALL flights from Britain, Eurotunnel closes and French BLOCK UK lorries for 48 hours after discovery of ‘70% more infectious’ mutant Covid strain
London’s Heathrow Airport was pictured descending into chaos last night as hundreds of passengers scrambled onto the last flight to Dublin minutes before a Covid-19 travel ban set in at midnight to nations across Europe including Ireland.
Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee today after more than a dozen countries – initially in Europe and then around the world – announced they were stopping flights from the UK, following the discovery of the ’70 per cent more infectious’ mutant coronavirus strain which plunged London and the south east into Tier Four.
Huge queues were seen at London Heathrow Airport last night
France joined Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Finland and Denmark in banning all flights carrying passengers from the UK into Europe for at least a 48 hour period, with some suspending flights into the New Year, while assessing the new strain.
Israel, Turkey, Morocco, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and El Salvador later followed suit, while pressure was last night mounting on the United States to take action after Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said Canada was putting a 72-hour stop on travel from the UK.
Crowds of people had packed into Heathrow Terminal 5 to await updates of a reportedly overbooked British Airways flight, operated by Aer Lingus, which was scheduled to take off at 8.55pm to Dublin.
Passenger Rachael Scully, 23, tweeted that the Irish Government eventually gave the ‘green light’ for the flight which was set to leave at 10:30pm and due to land with 15 minutes to spare before the travel ban at midnight.
She wrote: ‘Irish gov have given the green light and we’ve been processed for a BA flight. Due to land at 23:45. Woops of joy once the news got out. A Christmas miracle! [sic]’
Ireland announced its temporary 48-hour travel ban on non-essential flights from Britain which came into force at midnight and includes passengers on flights and ferries.
A British Airways spokesman told MailOnline: ‘Our teams looked after customers while we urgently looked into alternative arrangements to get them on their way to Dublin as quickly as possible.’
However some Irish people tweeted the stranded Heathrow passengers to urge them to stay put following the discovery of the ’70 per cent more infectious’ mutant coronavirus strain which plunged London and the south east into Tier Four.
One commented: ‘With all due respect guys, you are traveling from one of highest infected regions with a more infectious strain of #Covid_19..You guys run the risk of bringing it to #Ireland. Please consider staying put. It’s hard I know.’
Another wrote: ‘Pls rethink your plans. You risk bringing a more contagious strain of covid to Ireland. Elderly and vulnerable people are literally spending Xmas alone, inside afraid of seeing their families. Don’t be selfish, flights from the UK to here are now being stopped for good reason [sic].’
Ministers also debated a temporary ban on travel from Great Britain to Northern Ireland because of the new Covid variant, with further discussions expected on Monday.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, said: ‘This sharp and sudden increase is of serious concern.’
She said most of the new cases were concentrated in London and the South East – where the new strain is thought to have originated – although it was too soon to say if they were linked to it.
Last night the Department for Transport said Manston Airport was being prepared to to accommodate ‘up to 4000 lorries’ as a measure to ease congestion in Kent in the wake of the France travel ban and warned hauliers to avoid travel to Kent ports ‘until further notice’.
Kent Police implemented Operation Stack, when parts of the M20 are set aside to queue lorries headed for the Continent.
It comes after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urged hauliers to avoid travelling to Kent ports as the closure of the France-UK border is expected to trigger ‘significant disruption’.
The French Government joined a number of other European nations in banning inbound flights from the UK in a bid to prevent the spread of a coronavirus mutation sweeping through London and the south east of England.
Mr Shapps tweeted last night: ‘Following the French Government’s announcement it will not accept any passengers arriving from the UK for the next 48hrs, we’re asking the public & particularly hauliers not to travel to Kent ports or other routes to France.
‘We expect significant disruption in the area. My department is urgently working with Highways England and Kent Council on contingency measures to minimise traffic disruption in the area. We will share more details on these shortly.’
Earlier, French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari confirmed the country was suspending all traffic from the UK from midnight for at least 48 hours.
The Port of Dover tweeted on Sunday night that its ferry terminal was ‘closed to all accompanied traffic leaving the UK until further notice due to border restrictions in France’.
On its website it said: ‘Both accompanied freight and passenger customers are asked not to travel to the Port. We understand that the restrictions will be in place for 48 hours from midnight (CET).
‘We apologise for the inconvenience and will provide an update as soon as possible.’
It added: ‘Port of Dover Cargo Terminal, Marina and other areas of the Port remain open.’
Meanwhile, Eurotunnel tweeted that its last shuttle service departing for France would leave at 9.34pm yesterday, with access to its UK site prohibited from 10pm.
Rod McKenzie, from the Road Haulage Association, told Sky News that 10,000 lorries a day crossed between Dover and Calais in France.
He added: ‘Brexit stockpiling is one thing, the Christmas rush is another thing, but the absolute hammer blow now is to close the borders for 48 hours.
‘That is a serious disruption of the all important supply chain.’
Logistics UK, formerly the Freight Transport Association, which is based in Tunbridge Wells, tweeted: ‘Logistics UK is aware of news that accompanied freight to France is being not allowed for 48 hours; we are concerned about the welfare of drivers and we are urgently seeking more information for our members.’
Tory Kent MP Sir Roger Gale urged No 10 and Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to ‘get a grip’ on the developing situation with the Britain-France border.
He tweeted: ‘Cross Channel travel chaos. Don’t try to blame the Transport Department. Time for Number Ten and ‘CDL’ to get a grip.’
Cold Chain Federation chief executive Shane Brennan said: ‘Whilst we face no shortages now, we do need urgent agreements between the UK and EU Governments to find a way to safely allow freight movements to continue. This has been possible at every other stage through the pandemic. An extended period of stopped movement now will cause significant problems for supply chains in January.’
The Belgian government also announced its borders with the UK will close at midnight on Sunday.
The Eurostar rail service said on its website yesterday evening that due to the French and Belgian border closures it was unable to run any trains from London to Paris, Brussels, Lille or Amsterdam on Monday or Tuesday.
Services from Amsterdam, Brussels and Lille to London would also not run on these days, but trains from Paris to London continue to operate.
The rail company said it planned to resume all services to and from the UK on Wednesday and was awaiting further details from relevant governments on how travel restrictions will be enforced.
It comes after queues at Dover reached 20 miles last week with long traffic jams in Calais as thousands of lorries – many full of Christmas gifts and food – tried to cross the Channel amid chaos at Britain’s container ports.
Extraordinary photographs taken from above the M20 in Kent last Friday showed how vehicles were bumper-to-bumper amid claims businesses are stockpiling in case of a No Deal Brexit at the end of the month.
And across the water in France, in Calais trucks lined dual carriageways for miles as they tried to get a ferry to Dover or the Channel Tunnel to Folkestone ahead of the busiest shopping week of the year.
Retailers say items they ordered in August for Christmas have still not arrived in Britain because of shipping chaos caused by Covid-19 in China and problems unloading in the UK seeing containers dumped in Zeebrugge, Belgium.
UK firms are haemorrhaging £1million or more because shipments have been delayed and quadrupled in price with the cost of moving a container from Qingdao, China, to the UK now at £7,500 per load – up from £2,000.
What do we know about UK’s travel restrictions so far?
A growing number of nations have banned flights from the UK in a bid to stop a mutant strain of coronavirus crossing their borders. Here are some answers to key questions on the latest changes to international travel rules:
– Which European countries have banned flights from the UK?
France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands have all said they will halt flights arriving from the UK. The Czech Republic has imposed stricter quarantine measures for people arriving from Britain.
– Which other countries have implemented travel bans?
Turkey and Morocco have announced they will be suspending air travel from the UK, while the official Saudi Press Agency reports Saudi Arabia is also suspending international flights for one week. El Salvador is barring entry to anyone who has visited the UK in the preceding 30 days. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said from midnight Sunday, Canada was putting a 72-hour stop on flights from the UK.
– When do the flight bans start and how long do they last?
The Netherlands ban came into force on Sunday morning, with it due to last for at least the rest of the year. Belgium’s prime minister Alexander De Croo issued a flight ban order for 24 hours starting at midnight on Sunday.
Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza said an order was signed on Sunday blocking flights from Britain and preventing anyone who had been to the UK in the last 14 days from entering Italy. The order bans plane travel until January 6.
Austria and Italy have not specified when their plans to halt flights from the UK would take place.
Germany said it was banning flights from the UK starting at midnight, Berlin time, on Sunday, with the German dpa news agency reporting it would remain in place until at least December 31.
France has banned all travel from the UK for 48 hours from midnight on Sunday.
Bulgaria said it was temporarily ceasing flights to and from the UK from midnight on Sunday.
Finland is due to suspend all passenger flights with the UK for two weeks from Monday.
Poland is also due to halt flights from midnight on Monday, though it is not yet known how long the ban will be in place.
Denmark said all flights from Great Britain would be halted for 48 hours from Monday.
– What is the situation with Ireland?
The Irish Government said on Sunday that it was imposing a 48-hour ban on flights from Britain to Ireland. The restrictions come into force at midnight on Sunday.
– Is anyone exempt from the bans?
Ireland’s transport minister Eamon Ryan said ferries will continue to operate for freight between Britain and Ireland. ‘We need haulage coming in to keep our shelves full but other passengers will be restricted,’ he said. The German government said exemptions from its flight ban include repatriation flights of planes and their crews, postal, freight or empty flights and aircraft carrying medical personnel.
The Bulgarian embassy in London said on its website that Bulgarian citizens and their families, as well as permanent residents in Bulgaria, were able to enter the country subject to a 10-day quarantine if they fly through a different country or enter Bulgaria on land or by sea.
– What discussions are taking place between governments?
An EU crisis meeting has been called for Monday to discuss the coordination of the response to coronavirus among the 27 member states. The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) regards other countries’ travel restrictions as a matter for their own governments. It was previously understood to be in touch with international partners and monitoring the situation closely. But late on Sunday night No 10 revealed that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to chair a meeting of the UK Government’s Cobra civil contingencies committee on Monday.
– Why is this all happening?
A mutant strain of coronavirus sweeping across London and the south east of England has prompted the EU nations to start restricting inbound flights from the UK. Mr De Croo said Belgium’s flight ban was ‘out of precaution’, adding: ‘There are a great many questions about this new mutation and if it is not already on the mainland.’ The German embassy in London tweeted that flight restrictions were the result of ‘the coronavirus mutation’. On Saturday, Mr Johnson said there was ‘no evidence’ the new variant ’causes more severe illness or higher mortality’ but ‘it does appear to be passed on significantly more easily’. He said the new strain could be up to 70% more transmissible than the old virus variant.
– Are international train and ferry links running?
Eurostar said it was unable to run trains from London to Paris, Brussels, Lille or Amsterdam on Monday or Tuesday. Trains to London from Paris will continue to operate, with the rail company saying it planned to resume services to and from the UK on Wednesday. Eurotunnel said access to its UK site prohibited from 10pm after its last train left at 9.34pm.
Dover’s ferry terminal has also closed to ‘all accompanied traffic leaving the UK’ after France moved to shut its border.
– Am I allowed to travel abroad from England?
If you are living in one of the newly created Tier 4 areas, which encompasses London and parts of the south east and east of England, you must not travel abroad. Government guidance states people can only travel internationally if you are ‘legally permitted to do so, for example, because it is for work’. Across England people are advised to stay local and avoid travelling outside their area.
For those living in Tier 1, 2, and 3 areas, the guidance advises potential international travellers to ‘carefully consider whether they must travel abroad’. It advises them to ‘follow the rules in their area’ and consider the public health advice in the country they plan to visit.
Someone living outside Tier 4 can transit into or through a Tier 4 area to travel abroad if they need to. People are also warned to check travel advice from the FCDO and what rules are in place at their destination. For many countries the FCDO is advising against ‘all but essential travel’.
Ghost town London: Streets and stations are eerily empty as Tier 4 leaves capital showing little sign of life just days before Christmas – with city’s shopping centres and high streets suffering up to 75% plunge in footfall
The festive season would ordinarily be in full swing with families out doing last minute shopping and colleagues finishing off their work before getting merry and toasting the year at Christmas parties.
But the Capital was desolate this morning, with just a handful of key workers on the Tube network during rush hour, while shutters were down on shops and train stations were deserted.
Boris Johnson imposed a tough new round of restrictions on London and much of the South East on Saturday, effectively plunging more than 16million people into lockdown.
The move prompted shoppers to descend on London’s high streets in their droves on Saturday, with pictures showing Oxford Street and Regent Street flooded with panic buyers late into the night.
But as London and the South East plunged into Tier 4 restrictions at midnight, the streets emptied as people were forced to remain in their homes.
Christmas is now in chaos for millions after the Prime Minister’s eleventh hour U-turn; with panic at the tills amid fears of food shortages caused by Europe’s borders shutting and businesses facing ruin before the new year.
This comes as new data today shows that footfall in Tier 4 dropped by a staggering 75.5 per cent on Sunday.
Latest data from retail experts Springboard shows that footfall rose by 2.3 per cent across UK retail destinations in the week from Sunday, December 13 to Saturday 19.
But after Tier 4 restrictions were imposed, footfall across all retail destinations in Tier 4 is now 64.3 per cent lower than in 2019. It has declined by 75.5 per cent in shopping centres, and 71 per cent in high streets.
London Bridge would usually be thronging with commuters on a Monday – but these photos taken this morning show a very different picture
A very quiet Millennium Bridge in London this morning, after Boris Johnson effectively cancelled Christmas for almost 18 million people
The streets around St Paul’s Cathedral are without the usual tourists enjoying the festive season in the Capital
The South Bank in London was without its usual charm and merriment this morning, with traders, bars and restaurants forced to close
Leadenhall Market in the city of London, which opens 24 hours a day, was lifeless this morning – forcing shoppers to look elsewhere for last minute food and gifts
France imposed an inbound travel ban from 11pm last night amid the spread of the mutant Covid-19 strain which plunged London and the South East into Tier Four. Pictured, A Eurostar train is seen at a platform in St Pancras International railway station yesterday
There were just a handful of key workers passing through London Bridge this morning
STOCK MARKETS AND STERLING TAKE HEAVY HIT OVER COVID-19 AND BREXIT FEARS
More than £33billion was wiped off the FTSE 100 within minutes of opening today as panicked investors reacted to the devastating economic threat of a toughened lockdown, the new coronavirus strain and the continued Brexit deadlock.
Companies including British Airways owner IAG and engine maker Rolls-Royce took heavy hits, although online favourites Ocado and Just Eat Takeaway saw their shares rise.
Sterling fell heavily against the dollar and euro, down 1.79% and 1.38% respectively. A pound was worth 1.326 dollars and 1.086 euros.
Companies being hit hardest were those most impacted by the new Tier 4 restrictions – which have seen European countries stopping travel to the UK – include airlines and travel firms such as easyJet, FirstGroup, National Express, Tui, Trainline and cruise ship operator Carnival.
Shares in those firms fell between 5% and 9% across the board.
Pubs and leisure groups took a dent, with Mitchells & Butlers, Wetherspoon’s and Cineworld down 7.7%, 6.2% and 8.7% respectively.
Retailers also felt the pinch from the new restrictions in London and the South East, with non-essential stores told to close their doors, with Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group down 8.1% and WH Smith down 8%.
But online players saw boosts in share prices, with online supermarket Ocado and Just Eat Takeaway seeing shares rise 4.3% and 3.6% respectively.
As millions of people remain in the grip of draconian Tier 4 curbs it emerged today;
- The Food and Drink Federation warned of ‘serious disruption to UK Christmas fresh food supplies and exports’
- Italy said the mutant strain had been detected in a traveller who recently returned to the country from the UK
- The British Retail Consortium warned closure of France to UK traffic would create ‘difficulties’ for UK trade
- Nicola Sturgeon said it was ‘imperative’ the UK Government sought an extension to Brexit transition period
- Ireland has imposed a 48-hour ban on flights from Britain while ferries would be restricted to freight only
- Heathrow Airport descended into chaos as hundreds of passengers scrambled onto the last flight to Dublin
- Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted the new Tier 4 restrictions may have to remain in place for months
- The UK reported a further 35,928 cases yesterday as the mutant strain caused a 94.8% rise in infections
Shops, gyms, hairdressers and beauty salons have been ordered to shut again, with residents told not to leave Tier Four.
In his embarrassing U-turn, the Prime Minister also slashed a Christmas amnesty from five days to just one and cancelled get-togethers completely in Tier Four. Three days earlier he had said it would be ‘inhuman’ to do so.
London’s Underground was near-empty today, with many working from home after the draconian new rules came into play late on Saturday.
Millions are already queuing at supermarkets in a bid to buy supplies this morning, amid fears of food shortages after France introduced a new coronavirus travel ban on UK lorries.
The Port of Dover closed to all freight vehicles leaving the UK for the next 48 hours after France imposed an inbound travel ban from 11pm last night amid the spread of the mutant Covid-19 strain which plunged London and the South East into Tier Four.
But shortly after 10am this morning, the French Government said that ‘in the next few hours’ it will establish a ‘protocol to ensure that movement from the UK can resume’.
Shoppers began queuing at supermarkets from 5.50am this morning as people rushed to buy groceries before Christmas amid news of potential shortages.
And Sainsbury’s warned of several popular items being unavailable over the coming days: ‘If nothing changes, we will start to see gaps over the coming days on lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit – all of which are imported from the Continent at this time of year.
‘We hope the UK and French governments can come to a mutually agreeable solution that prioritises the immediate passage of produce and any other food at the ports.’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold crisis talks with Ministers today as he chairs the Government’s Cobra civil contingencies committee amid warnings of ‘significant disruption’ around the Channel ports in Kent.
Kent Police implemented Operation Stack to ease congestion, while the Department for Transport said the disused Manston Airport was also being prepared as another contingency measure against the anticipated level of disruption.
Countries including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, and Bulgaria announced restrictions on UK travel following the outbreak of the new strain across South East England.
People travelling on a District Line tube train in central London at rush hour this morning
The platform at Temple tube station in central London – which would usually be packed with commuters on a Monday morning
Blackfriars tube station in central London was near-empty this morning, with just one lone commuter on her way to work
‘Show us the evidence’: Scientists call for clarity on claim that new Covid-19 variant strain is 70% more contagious
The Prime Minister has warned the new variant of coronavirus may be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than previous strains and could overwhelm the NHS.
But last night one scientist demanded greater transparency over the number that shut down swathes of the UK.
Carl Heneghan, Professor of Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care, expressed scepticism over the 70 per cent figure.
He said: ‘I’ve been doing this job for 25 years and I can tell you can’t establish a quantifiable number in such a short time frame.’
He added ‘every expert is saying it’s too early to draw such an inference’.
Professor Heneghan said there was no doubt this time of the year, the ‘height of the viral season’, was a difficult time for the NHS. But he said failure to put out the basis of the figures was undermining public trust.
He added: ‘I would want to have very clear evidence rather than ‘we think it’s more transmissible’ so we can see if it is or not.
‘It has massive implications, it’s causing fear and panic, but we should not be in this situation when the Government is putting out data that is unquantifiable.’
He added: ‘They are fitting the data to the evidence. They see cases rising and they are looking for evidence to explain it.’
Ahead of a meeting of the Cobra committee chaired by the Prime Minister, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said emergency measures were being put in place to cope with a backlog of lorries heading for the channel ports.
But he sought to play down the potential impact, stressing that container freight was not hit by the French ban on travellers.
The markets tumbled in response to the escalating coronavirus crisis and the looming prospect of a no-deal Brexit at the end of the transition period on December 31.
More than £33 billion was wiped off the FTSE 100 within minutes of opening, as the index dropped more than 2%, although it later recovered to a fall of around 1.4%.
Along with France, countries across the world announced restrictions on UK travel following the disclosure that the highly infectious new strain is widespread across south-east England.
Italian authorities said the mutant strain had been detected in a traveller who recently returned to the country from the UK.
French health minister Olivier Veran said it was already ‘entirely possible’ the new variant – VUI 202012/01 – was already circulating there, although tests had not detected it.
As well as affecting freight flows from Dover and the Channel Tunnel at Folkestone, the disruption will leave passengers stranded in the run-up to Christmas.
Mr Shapps attempted to calm fears about the wider impact of the French decision.
The Transport Secretary said hauliers were ‘quite used to anticipating disruption’, adding there were variations in supply ‘all the time’.
Mr Shapps said he was talking to French counterpart Jean-Baptiste Djebbari and told Sky News: ‘The absolute key is to get this resolved as soon as possible.’
It comes as millions of families face living under Tier Four restrictions for months, Matt Hancock warned.
Warning that the draconian lockdown could be extended nationwide, the Health Secretary said coronavirus was now ‘out of control’ following the emergence of a fast-spreading new variant.
Mr Hancock acknowledged yesterday that many were angry with the Government for forcing families to cancel their Christmas plans.
But he said the new variant posed ‘an enormous challenge, until we can get the vaccine rolled out to protect people. This is what we face over the next couple of months’.
It comes as experts on Nervtag (New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group) warn the new strain of Covid-19 ‘does look significantly better at spreading’.
Warning Tier 4 measures could be extended, Peter Openshaw of Imperial College London, a member of Nervtag, told The Times: ‘It’s very unlikely anything less than really effective measures are going to control it.
‘My concern is people are not going to comply. It’s really important people appreciate the danger.’
The Health Secretary suggested other parts of the country would also be plunged into Tier Four if a significant number of cases of the mutant virus emerged.
One senior Conservative MP called for Mr Hancock to resign over the shambolic handling of the Christmas rules.
And furious Tories demanded a recall of Parliament to debate and vote on the changes to pandemic laws, which were made unilaterally by Mr Hancock in the early hours of yesterday.
Covid cases hit a daily record of 35,928 yesterday – almost double the previous week. There were also 326 deaths, up from 144 a week earlier.
£7bn blow to Christmas shops: Tier 4 lockdown will wipe out huge takings during the festive peak for stores that are already ‘hanging on by a thread’, experts warn
Closed pubs and shuttered shops in the City financial district of London this morning
By Sean Poulter and Matt Oliver for the Daily Mail
High streets in Tier Four face a £7billion nightmare after having to suddenly pull down the shutters at the busiest time of the year.
The huge sum could be lost in takings for the Christmas week through to the Boxing Day and January sales after new Covid restrictions were imposed.
It is feared thousands of stores ordered to close will never re-open, putting many thousands out of work.
The closure of non-essential shops, gyms, hairdressers, nail bars and department stores in London and the South East at midnight on Saturday after just a few hours’ notice has been a hammer blow.
Meanwhile Wales moved into a Tier Four equivalent yesterday and Scotland announced its own restrictions on Saturday.
Retail analyst Steve Dresser criticised the ‘zero notice’ and warned: ‘It’s sounding the death knell for our industry. End of times.’
Debenhams and Topshop, part of the Arcadia group, already have closing down sales and many others will follow suit.
Bricks and mortar retailers, including John Lewis and Next, are having to switch the focus of Boxing Day sales online and even bring them forward.
The scale of the lost or delayed sales for physical stores could ‘sadly’ be up to £7billion, suggested Douglas McWilliams, deputy chairman of the Centre for Economics and Business Research.
‘This fortnight is big for Christmas and sale spending with £15billion of Christmas spending next week and £8billion of sale spending the week after,’ he said.
‘Some goes to supermarkets, some will go online. And some parts of the country are unaffected. But about £5-7billion will be at least delayed.’
The British Retail Consortium has estimated the loss of sales during a typical lockdown week are up to £2billion. The total for the weeks before and after Christmas would be likely to top £5billion.
Richard Lim, chief executive at analysts Retail Economics, also warned of the effects of Tier Four.
‘Thousands of retailers are hanging on by a thread, hoping to trade through these vital days before Christmas after months of disruption,’ he said.
‘It is essential that adequate government support is provided for an industry already on its knees.
For many shoppers, a last-minute rush to order presents online will come too late as retailers struggle to cope with the volume of orders.
‘Online capacity has already been exceeded for many retailers and a last-gasp attempt for some is likely to push operations beyond their limits.’
The British Independent Retailers Association criticised the closure of non-essential shops as ‘disastrous’.
It called for support for small shopowners who will lose out as consumers rush to supermarkets and the few other stores, such as DIY warehouses, which can remain open.
Chief executive Andrew Goodacre added that ‘closing Covid-secure non-essential shops at this time of year does not deter people from coming out’.
He warned: ‘It only leads to larger crowds in those stores left to trade, giving every opportunity for this virus to spread.’
The British Retail Consortium has been accused by industry insiders of failing to use the rhetoric needed to spell out the true scale of the crisis.
After the latest closures, chief executive Helen Dickinson said: ‘This is hugely regrettable news.
‘Retailers have invested hundreds of millions of pounds making stores Covid-secure.
‘The consequences of this decision will be severe. The Government’s stop-start approach is deeply unhelpful.
‘This decision comes only two weeks after the end of the last national lockdown and in the middle of peak trading.
‘Faced with this news and the prospect of losing £2billion per week in sales for the third time this year, many businesses will be in serious difficulty and many thousands of jobs could be at risk.’
The UK reported a further 35,928 cases yesterday as the mutant strain caused a 94.8% rise in infections