France will reopen its borders to passengers from England on Wednesday, ending a blockade intended to stop the spread of a new so-called mutant coronavirus variant.
An agreement has been reached with the French government over the UK border, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said, after it was closed amid concern over the new coronavirus variant.
He promised more details on hauliers later, but urged them not to go to Kent where about 2,850 lorries are stranded.
Meanwhile, French authorities said some journeys would resume on Wednesday.
Residents and nationals will be among those allowed to return if they have a recent negative test.
Mr Shapps tweeted: “Good progress today and agreement with the French Government on borders. We will provide an update on hauliers later this evening, but hauliers must still NOT travel to Kent this evening.”
Good progress today and agreement with the French Government on borders. We will provide an update on hauliers later this evening, but hauliers must still NOT travel to Kent this evening.— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) December 22, 2020
French authorities said planes, boats and Eurostar trains would resume services on Wednesday morning.
This is available to French nationals, EU citizens and people with residency in France.
Travel will also be available to people carrying out essential trips, including health staff fighting against Covid-19, those who provide international transport of goods, fishing crew and bus or train drivers.
But in order to travel, they will need to have received a negative PCR test result less than 72 hours before departure.
“French nationals, people living in France and those with a legitimate reason will have to be carrying a negative test,” French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebarri said.
Much of the world shut its borders to Britain after a mutated coronavirus variant was discovered spreading swiftly across southern England.
With queues of trucks snaking to the horizon in England and some supermarket shelves stripped just days before Christmas, Boris Johnson scrambled to get French President Emmanuel Macron to lift a ban on freight from Britain.
Late on Tuesday a deal was reached with Paris to allow French and other EU residents to return home, providing they have a negative COVID test that is less than 72 hours old.
Britain said further details would be provided later on Tuesday, but still advised trucks not to travel to the Kent region where the most heavily used rail and ferry links are.
Johnson and his advisers said the mutated variant of the coronavirus, which could be up to 70% more transmissible, was spreading rapidly but that it had been identified because British scientists were so efficient at genomic surveillance.
Earlier the European Commission advised that non-essential travel to and from Britain should be discouraged but said that people heading home should be allowed to do so, provided they undergo a COVID-19 test or quarantine for 10 days.
However, border controls are governed by national policy, so each EU country can have its own rules.
COVID-19 tests usually take 24-48 hours for a result so it was not immediately clear how swiftly trucks could be moving again with Christmas days away.
More than 50 countries have banned UK arrivals following widespread concern about the spread of the new variant.
No lorries have been leaving the Port of Dover or Eurotunnel to France.
Kent County Council leader Roger Gough told the BBC on Tuesday afternoon that 2,220 vehicles were at the temporary lorry park at Manston, while 632 were still being held on the M20.
It comes as Tesco said it would be reintroducing temporary purchasing limits on some essential products, including toilet rolls, eggs, rice and hand wash.
The supermarket said the move was a “pre-emptive measure” to “smooth demand” – rather than in response to a change in buyer behaviour – and that its stock levels were good.
The British Retail Consortium warned that trucks needed to be able to start travelling again in the next 24 hours to “avoid seeing problems on our shelves”.
This comes as the UK records highest daily increase in cases and another 691 deaths
The rise in cases is being blamed on a new and faster-spreading variant of the virus, which plunged much of England into Tier 4.
The UK has recorded another 36,804 confirmed cases of coronavirus – the highest daily increase since the pandemic began.
It comes after 33,364 cases on Monday and also tops 35,928 on Sunday, which was itself a record.
Another 691 deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test have also been recorded, government data shows – the highest for nearly a month.