LONDON (AP) — Over 2,800 stranded truck drivers hoped to get the green light Tuesday to leave Britain and get back home for Christmas as the country found itself increasingly isolated and its trade bottled up, cut off by neighbours afraid of a new strain of the coronavirus circulating in England.
More than 630 trucks snaked along a major highway in southeast England near the English Channel ports, while almost 2,200 others crowded into an unused airport on Day 2 of an ordeal that began when dozens of nations banned flights from the UK and France barred entry to its trucks.
The precautions were prompted by a new variant of the virus that is believed to be more contagious, though experts say it does not appear to be more deadly or vaccine-resistant.
A similar one has emerged in South Africa.
On an island nation that relies heavily on its commercial links to the continent, the travel bans stoked fears of food shortages over Christmastime.
At the same time, Britain is witnessing an alarming rise in infections, with a record 36,800 reported on Tuesday, and is facing deep uncertainty over its final exit from the European Union in less than two weeks.
Despite the looming deadline, the country has yet to work out its post-Brexit trade arrangements with the EU.
“What is so bad to me, is not just this new mutation, but the fact that we have been so bad at dealing with the pandemic, and it now looks like we’re heading for what’s called a perfect storm with the mutation 70% more infectious and Brexit all at the same time,” said 73-year-old Jim Gibson of London.
“People are really struggling to get their heads around one of these, let alone both — and now we’re being told we may have eaten our last lettuce for three months, too, probably.”
For the drivers, it has been a grim couple of days, with some complaining about the lack of toilet facilities and food.
“My family is waiting for me, my children, my daughter, my son, my wife,” said Greg Mazurek of Poland.
“It was supposed to be a very quick trip, three to four days max. I spent in the UK 10 minutes in the gas station and 20 minutes unloading, and now I need to wait two days here in the port in Dover.”
Drivers held out hope the ordeal might end within hours.
The prospects seemed to improve Tuesday when the EU’s executive arm recommended a lifting of the bans.
The European Commission said people returning to their home countries should be able to do so provided they test negative for the virus or quarantine.
It said that “cargo flows need to continue uninterrupted.”