With a newly discovered variant of the virus prompting a wave of countries to ban travel from the U.K, the panic has now triggered disruptions in the country’s supply chain.
Britain’s biggest port stopped all traffic heading to Europe leading to delays in food supplies after the discovery of the new variant of the deadly virus.
With France suspending inbound travel from the U.K., including freight, for 48 hours starting midnight Sunday, pressure has increased on the government to mull over food supply concerns.
In a bid to keep goods flowing, the escalating crisis led to Boris Johnson convening a meeting of the government’s emergency committee on Monday.
Roads have already been clogged on both sides of the Channel for days and a freight transport group urged shoppers to avoid panic buying. Amid the clock ticking for Britain to speak on its future trade relationship with the European Union before the Dec. 31 deadline, the country’s Food and Drink Federation warned of the potential for serious disruption to fresh food supplies over the Christmas holidays.
Alex Veitch, General Manager of Logistics UK, while predicting “significant disruption” from the border shutdown said, “If it means setting up the world’s biggest rapid-testing facility in Kent then that’s what we’ll have to do”.
Logistics UK, which has 18,000 corporate members from across the British supply chain, called for rapid Covid-19 testing of truckers departing the country as the quickest way of restoring trade links.
The port of Dover shut its ferry terminal for outbound traffic until further notice and also implored freight and passenger customers to stay away. The company operating Eurotunnel trains between the U.K. and France suspended its truck shuttle on Sunday in response to the French measures.
U.K. supply lines with the rest of the EU narrowed over the weekend after Johnson’s government flagged a coronavirus mutation and ordered a full lockdown for London and much of southeastern England.
Health Minister Matt Hancock played down concerns that the logjam could jeopardise the supply of COVID-19 vaccines into the country.He set out five contingency plans for ensuring delivery, including the use of military aircraft in an interview.
There are possibilities that the EU authorities may also push to limit the extent of the shutdown because more than 80% of the drivers of the 2.1 million trucks that go through Dover every year are foreign nationals, with the majority of them hailing from the EU.
At the same time, the level of concern surrounding the new strain of virus detected in Britain means there’s a danger the curbs could be more prolonged, Veitch said.
Mr Veitch added that the impact over Christmas should be mitigated by the level of stocking in the run-up to the end-of-year deadline for a trade deal. The number of trucks passing through Dover hit 9,000 in one day last week, compared with the usual 5,000 or so for the time of year.