THOUSANDS of lorry drivers are spending Boxing Day in their cabs and more are arriving "every hour" after almost a week of disruption at the English Channel border.
Up to 5,000 drivers were forced to spend Christmas Day in their cabs after being trapped when France closed its border in response to the new mutant Covid strain.
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And around 3,000 hauliers were still waiting to cross into France from Kent on Friday evening despite hundreds of troops being drafted in to help clear the backlog.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps last night said that thousands of HGVs had finally travelled over the Channel.
He wrote on Twitter: "Over 10,000 tests have taken place & over 4,500 HGVs are back over the Channel."
However, the Ministry of Defence said, while 4,500 lorries had crossed the channel since French authorities eased restrictions on Wednesday, more vehicles were continuing to arrive "every hour".
France closed its border last Sunday following the discovery of a fast-spreading mutant Covid-19 strain in the UK, causing severe disruptions at the Port of Dover.
Drivers wishing to enter the country from the UK must now show proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken in the past 72 hours.
Some 1,100 military personnel have since been deployed to Kent to help test hauliers queued at the nearby Manston Airport, on a closed section of the M20, and in the town of Dover itself.
Some drivers have already spent nearly a week stranded due to the diplomatic impasse.
Mr Shapps said more than 10,000 Covid-19 tests have been carried out so far, of which 24 returned a positive result.
He said: "The British Army is again showing why it is world class, ramping up testing and feeding hauliers stranded by the Covid restrictions, while helping oversee the operation in Kent.
"But let's not forget the tireless effort of the police, civilian testers, council planners and port and ferry workers.
"These thousands of people, military and civilians, have given up their Christmas to help drivers separated from their loved ones through no fault of their own."
However Labour MP Barry Sheerman tweeted: "Thousands of truck drivers stranded in dire circumstances at Dover & the Prime Minister nor any member of his cabinet with the courage to pay them a visit on Christmas Day #ShameonYou".
Army personnel had tested more than 6,200 drivers as of Christmas Day, while also being tasked with distributing food and water, the MoD said.
Traffic was moving smoothly through Dover on Friday, with French firefighters and the Polish military's Territorial Defence Force also drafted in to help with testing.
Poland has codenamed its operation Zumbach, after the Polish Second World War pilot Jan Zumbach, who fought for the allies in the Battle of Britain, the country's UK embassy said.
Germany's ambassador to the UK, Andreas Michaelis, said some German hauliers had managed to make it home for Christmas, while others remained in Kent.
He tweeted: "Some of the German lorry drivers we've been in touch with are on their way home or at home already. Others sadly remain stuck.
"I sincerely hope things will start moving for them soon. This is a difficult Christmas. Our thoughts are with them."
Various individuals and organisations have volunteered to help the stranded drivers by providing them with food and drink.
Mubashir Ahmad Siddiqi, 60, and his two 20-year-old sons Qasim and Hamza, from Barking in east London, spent six hours helping to prepare 1,000 portions of chicken biryani on Friday for those stuck in Kent.
Mr Siddiqi said: "Ten of us from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community and the Ahmadiyya Muslim youth association managed to drop off over 1,000 meals, 1,200 chocolate bars and drinks for the lorry drivers."
He added: "It's a great feeling to be able to help those who are alone at the moment and we hope that through our humble efforts we were able to cheer them up with the food packages."
HM Coastguard said its teams in the Dover area had also delivered 3,000 hot meals, 600 pizzas, 2,985 packed lunches and 17 pallets of water to those waiting.
The MoD said 800 additional soldiers were deployed on Friday as part of Operation Rose to support the 300 personnel already there.
Some have already spent nearly a week stranded due to the diplomatic impasse.
The government said catering vans would be brought in to provide complementary hot food and drinks to stranded hauliers at Manston, with Kent Council and volunteer groups providing refreshments to those stuck on the M20.
There are more than 250 toilets at Manston, with a further 32 portable toilets added to existing toilets already along the M20.
Furious drivers clashed with cops this week as tensions hit boiling point – despite the border to France finally reopening after its 48-hour blockade.
On Wednesday, there were 4,000 trucks waiting in huge queues. But around 2,000 more joined long lines earlier, despite the Government urging hauliers to stay away from Kent.
Trucks began entering the Eurotunnel again on Wednesday after the French government agreed to allow drivers through provided they had a negative Covid result.
It comes after some of the drivers protested by blocking roads near the lorry holding facility at Manston Airport, where there have been complaints over a lack of food and toilets.
Mr Shapps told the BBC: "The issue is just the logistics of people following the instructions and making sure we can keep the port clear in order that we can get the traffic rolling.
"The more that people follow the clear instructions the faster we can get this resolved.
"It will take a matter of days rather than weeks or anything else but there will be, I'm afraid, some patience required."
He added the Government was providing "welfare" for the lorry drivers stuck at the border and would continue to do so in the days to come.
Adina Valean, the European Union's transport commissioner, said she was pleased stranded trucks are now moving "slowly across the Channel" after Covid restrictions between France and the UK were lifted.
"I am pleased that at this moment, we have trucks slowly crossing the Channel, and I want to thank UK authorities that they started testing the drivers at a capacity of 300 tests per hour," Ms Valean tweeted.
"I deplore that France went against our recommendations and brought us back to the situation we were in in March when the supply chains were interrupted."
Kent Police said one man was arrested on Wednesday for obstructing a highway in Dover. A police car was also damaged during a disturbance at Manston, the force added.
France imposed the travel ban in response to fears about the spread of the more infectious coronavirus strain, which is spreading in the UK.
Yesterday, drivers told of their heartbreak at spending Christmas Day away from their homes.
Wojtek Golawski, from Lukow in Poland, was forced to call to his pregnant wife and daughters to tell them he was unlikely to make it home for Christmas.
The 34-year-old, who has two girls aged three and five, said: “It means that I'm not going to make it home to my daughters and to my wife, who is seven months pregnant.
“I had to make a very tough phone call to her earlier this evening to say that the problems in England meant I would have to miss Christmas this year.
“She and the girls were very upset and so was I.
"It's going to be depressing celebrating it on my own in the same lorry cab I've spent the last two nights sleeping in.”
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