Some 1,100 British soldiers are spending Christmas Day carrying out COVID-19 tests to clear a huge backlog of truck drivers waiting to cross the Channel to France.
The UK’s Ministry of Defense said on Friday that a further 800 military personnel were deployed in Kent “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 normal pace through Dover.”
They add to the 300 soldiers already committed to the task.
“While significant progress has been made, with hundreds of vehicles already departing the UK, there is a need for increased testing as more vehicles continue to arrive every hour,” the ministry added.
Some 4,000 international truck drivers were still waiting to be allowed to cross the Channel. The backlog is due to France’s decision earlier this week to briefly close the border with the UK after British authorities warned of a new, apparently more contagious, variant of the novel coronavirus. It then requested all travellers be tested.
Britain’s Minister of Transport Grant Shapps said on Friday that over 10,000 tests had been carried out and that 24 were positive.
“A huge thank you for the tireless efforts of our troops, police, civilian testers, council planners and port and ferry workers for giving up their Christmas to get people home,” he added.
Most of the testing is being conducted at a disused airfield at Manston Airport, 20 miles (33 kilometers) 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.
Britain is one of the world’s most impacted country in the world with nearly 70,000 deaths attributed to the pandemic and close to 2.2 million confirmed infections.
A multi-tiered system to curb the spread of the disease was introduced in England at the beginning of the month with the vast majority of the population under the two strictest tiers. But a new tier four is to kick in on Saturday with harsher restrictions for up to six million people in the capital London, the southeast and eastern England.
The UK was the first country in the world to approve the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNtech. More than 600,000 people have now received the first dose, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.