Trucks are parked up on the M20, as more arrive to join the queue, part of Operation Stack in Ashford, Kent, England, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020. Thousands wait to resume their journey across The Channel after the borders with France reopened. Trucks inched slowly past checkpoints in Dover and headed across the Channel to Calais on Thursday after France partially reopened its borders following a scare over a rapidly spreading new virus variant. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Trucks are parked up on the M20, as more arrive to join the queue, part of Operation Stack in Ashford, Kent, England, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020. Thousands wait to resume their journey across The Channel after the borders with France reopened. Trucks inched slowly past checkpoints in Dover and headed across the Channel to Calais on Thursday after France partially reopened its borders following a scare over a rapidly spreading new virus variant. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

British army helps clear backlog of virus-stranded drivers

LONDON — Around 1,000 British soldiers were spending Christmas Day trying to clear a huge backlog of truck drivers stuck in southeast England after France briefly closed its border to the U.K. then demanded coronavirus tests from all amid fears of a new, apparently more contagious, virus variant.

Even as 4,000 international truck drivers spent yet another day cooped up in their cabs, some progress was evident Friday, with traffic around the English Channel port of Dover moving in an orderly fashion towards the extra ferries that were put on to make the short crossing across to Calais in northern France.

The military personnel were directing traffic and helping a mass testing program for the drivers, who must test negative to enter France. French firefighters have also been drafted to help the military test drivers for coronavirus.

Officials from Britain’s Department for Transport said all but three of the 2,367 coronavirus tests conducted so far have been negative.

France closed its border for 48 hours to the U.K. last Sunday after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a variant of the virus that is 70% more transmissible is driving the rapid spread of infections in London and surrounding areas. As a result, the capital and many other parts of England have seen lockdown restrictions tightened and family holiday gatherings cancelled.

Most of the testing is being conducted at a disused airfield at Manston Airport, 20 miles (33 kilometres) from Dover. Free food and drink was being sent to the stranded truck drivers and more than 250 portable toilets were put in at Manston, with 32 others placed along the gridlocked M20 highway.

“The most reassuring thing is that food is getting through at Manston, and I have to say a big thank you to everyone who volunteered to help drivers stick it out in cold conditions in the days leading up to Christmas,” said Duncan Buchanan of Britain’s Road Haulage Association.

The mood among the stranded drivers appeared to be mostly sanguine, especially compared to their anger earlier this week at the situation and the lack of facilities.

“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,” said British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

The virus has been blamed for over 1.7 million confirmed deaths worldwide, including nearly 70,000 in Britain, the second-highest death toll in Europe behind Italy.

On Saturday, Britain is extending tighter lockdown restrictions to more areas as authorities try to stem the spread of the new variant. Over the past two days, the U.K. has recorded its two highest daily infection numbers, at just below 40,000. That is stoking fears that the country’s beloved National Health Service will face acute capacity issues in its hospitals soon and thousands more people will die from the virus.

In a video message to the nation, Johnson said this Christmas was “not about presents, or turkey, or brandy butter” but about hope, in the form of coronavirus vaccine shots being delivered and more vaccines being developed.

“We know there will be people alive next Christmas, people we love, alive next Christmas precisely because we made the sacrifice and didn’t celebrate as normal this Christmas,” the prime minister said.

Johnson said Thursday that more than 800,000 people in Britain have received the first dose of the vaccine developed by American pharmaceutical firm Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech. The U.K. was the first country in the world to approve the vaccine and began inoculations for health workers and those over 80 on Dec. 8.

___

Follow AP coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccines and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Pan Pylas, The Associated Press

Just Posted

An incredible closing ceremony capped off the 2019 Canada Winter Games. (File photo by SUSAN JUDGE/2019 Canada Winter Games)
2019 Canada Winter Games Legacy Fund Society hands out $655,000

35 not-for-profit groups across Alberta to get money

Dr. Verna Yiu, president and chief executive officer of Alberta Health Services, says COVID ICU patients have increased by more than 100 per cent in the past month. (Photo by The Government of Alberta)
Record number of people in ICU: says AHS president

The head of Alberta Health Services says hospital staff are treating more… Continue reading

The Red Deer Rebels have acquired goaltender Connor Ungar from the Brandon Wheat Kings, the team announced Monday. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer Rebels acquire goaltender Connor Ungar, forward Liam Keeler in separate trades

The Red Deer Rebels have acquired goaltender Connor Ungar from the Brandon… Continue reading

Alexander Michael Talbot, 29, was found guilty of operating a vehicle while prohibited, flight from police and vehicle theft in Red Deer provincial court recently. (Advocate file photo)
Man charged following police chases in central Alberta last summer is sentenced

Alexander Michael Talbot sentenced to 22 months in prison

Red Deer musician Curtis Phagoo is glad the Alberta government is investing $2 million to help the province’s live music industry, but he would have liked the criteria to be expanded, so the money could be used as relief to cover revenue shortfalls. (Contributed photo by Cory Michaud)
Red Deer musicians welcome $2M in grants to help live music, but would have preferred relief program

The money is for future projects and can’t be used for retroactive expenses

Marlene Bird is shown in this undated handout provided by radio station CKBI. A Saskatchewan man who brutally attacked a woman and set her on fire has been denied parole. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-CKBI **MANDATORY CREDIT**
Man who attacked, set fire to Indigenous woman in Saskatchewan denied parole

Man who attacked, set fire to Indigenous woman in Saskatchewan denied parole

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police don’t expect gang conflict to subside, say it might escalate

Vancouver police don’t expect gang conflict to subside, say it might escalate

Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister Adrian Dix talk about phase two in B.C.'s COVID-19 immunization plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, March 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. residents who had AstraZeneca vaccine can choose second-dose vaccine

B.C. residents who had AstraZeneca vaccine can choose second-dose vaccine

This image released by Forest Lake Camp shows campers boating and kayaking on the lake of the camp in Warrensburg, N.Y. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Forest Lake Camp via AP
Canada’s summer camps hope to reopen as provinces plan to lift restrictions

Canada’s summer camps hope to reopen as provinces plan to lift restrictions

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals tap another military officer to replace Fortin on vaccine campaign

Liberals tap another military officer to replace Fortin on vaccine campaign

Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, Thursday, May 6, 2021 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. The audit, ordered by the Arizona Senate, has the U.S. Department of Justice saying it is concerned about ballot security and potential voter intimidation arising from the unprecedented private recount of the 2020 presidential election results. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool)
Republican Arizona election official says Trump “unhinged”

Republican Arizona election official says Trump “unhinged”

In this June 29, 2020 file photo, the Supreme Court is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Supreme Court to take up major abortion rights challenge

Supreme Court to take up major abortion rights challenge

FILE - In this May 14, 2021, file photo, signs instruct visitors on the proper way to wear masks at the Universal City Walk in Universal City, Calif. California is keeping its rules for wearing facemasks in place until the state more broadly lifts its pandemic restrictions on June 15. State officials said Monday, May 17 that the delay will give people time to prepare, and for the state to make sure that virus cases stay low. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
California will stay masked for another month

California will stay masked for another month

Most Read