'Mass Covid-19 testing' planned for lorry drivers arriving in UK

26 March 2021, 10:25

Reports suggest ministers are planning to mass test lorry drivers
Reports suggest ministers are planning to mass test lorry drivers. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

Ministers are planning to introduce mass testing for lorry drivers arriving in the UK just days after the Prime Minister flagged tougher measures to prevent coronavirus variants being transmitted from Europe, reports suggest.

Hauliers, border force officials and other specialist workers at the border have been exempt from Covid-19 testing but that could change as anxiety over new variants increase.

Whitehall will announce this weekend, the Daily Telegraph reports, that those previously exempt will instead have to take a customised test.

The paper suggests it will be done once they are in Britain rather than at the border to avoid delays that could lead to shortages in supermarkets.

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Those staying in the country longer than two days will have to have a test within 48 hours of arriving and then every 72 hours, with fines similar to the £2,000 fines for travellers who fail to test during home quarantine.

Thrice weekly tests will be mandatory for Border Force staff engaged in cross Channel work too, and similar arrangements will be in place for those working on trains and ferries in the area.

It follows criticism of ministers by the Home Affairs Committee chairwoman for not implementing a scheme for workers which regularly move across borders.

Committee chair Yvette Cooper on Wednesday asking why hauliers coming from France were not being tested given the country has up to 3,000 cases of the two strains.

Speaking on the same day, Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted he was considering tougher restrictions for France, telling the Liaison Committee of senior MPs that "we have to look at the situation at the Channel" and "we can't rule out tougher measures and we will put them in if necessary".

When France required the testing of hauliers crossing the Channel in December it led to thousands of lorries being stranded in Kent while the arrangements were put in place.

The PM on Wednesday acknowledged there would be "very serious disruption" involved in any curtailing of cross-Channel trade.

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"This country depends very largely for the food in our shops, for the medicines that we need on that trade flowing smoothly," he said.

"We will take a decision, no matter how tough, to interrupt that trade, to interrupt those flows, if we think that it is necessary to protect public health and to stop new variants coming in.

"It may be that we have to do that very soon."

The comments were made amid reports Mr Johnson is under pressure from England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty and his deputy Jonathan Van-Tam to implement tougher border controls.

Logistics UK said any testing regime of hauliers arriving in the UK from France must be "proportionate".

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Sarah Laouadi, European policy manager at the trade body, said it was "worth remembering that drivers are, by the nature of their jobs and thanks to contactless delivery procedures, a very low-risk category - as has been borne out by the testing carried out on drivers since the start of the pandemic - and any testing regime must be proportionate".

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said: "We are carefully monitoring the increase in cases in Europe and will keep all measures under review as we cautiously remove restrictions throughout our roadmap."