Manston Airfield has been cleared of hauliers (Picture: PA)
Lorry drivers waiting to cross into France have been told they can head to Dover instead of queuing at an overflow freight park.
Manston Airfield was being used to manage the huge number of hauliers stuck in Kent after France closed its borders following the discovery of a fast-spreading mutant Covid-19 strain in the UK.
The move sparked chaos at the English Channel Crossing, with thousands of drivers left stranded in queues on Christmas Day.
The army was deployed to help manage the crisis after France said anyone entering from Britain must show proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken in the previous 72 hours.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that by 9am Boxing Day, 15,526 coronavirus tests have now been carried out, with just 36 positive results.
‘Manston now empty and lorries should no longer head there please,’ the cabinet minister tweeted.
The number of lorries still waiting to cross into France is now at a manageable enough number – around 1,600 – that they can join a queue on the M20 instead of waiting in Manston.
Some hauliers have spent nearly a week stranded with their lorries due to the disruption at the border.
Drivers waiting at Manston were told to join the queue at the M20
Freight Lorries and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) are stacked at Manston Airport (Picture: Getty)
The emergence of the mutant strain in southeast England last week led to dozens of countries shutting their borders. But while most exempted hauliers, France did not.
A backlog of about 5,000 lorries built up on the vital trade route, prompting fears about food shortages, while people were urged not to travel to Kent Ports.
A deal requiring drivers to test negative was struck on Wednesday, three days after the border was closed, but the queues have taken days to clear, with some scuffles breaking out with police.
Although congestion is beginning to ease at the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel, hauliers have warned ‘it’s not over yet over’, as more who held off leaving for the border over the festive period are expected to join the queue soon.
Lines of lorries are queueing at the M20 motorway near Ashford (Picture: Reuters)
Traffic began moving smoothly through Dover on Friday, with French firefighters and the Polish military’s Territorial Defence Force drafted in to help some 1,100 British military personnel with testing at Manston Airport and two mobile sites.
Around 3,000 hauliers were still waiting to cross into France from Kent on Christmas evening, and around half of these had been cleared by 10.30am on Boxing Day. according to the Department for Transport (DfT).
More than 8,000 HGVs have passed over the border via the port or through Eurotunnel since Wednesday when the border reopened, the DfT said.
Duncan Buchanan, policy director at the Road Haulage Association (RHA), said ‘traffic is flowing’ at the Port of Dover on Boxing Day, but he added ‘it’s not over yet’ because more drivers who held off leaving over Christmas would be joining the queue in the coming days.
People use a rope to handle supplies to drivers as lorries queue to cross the border (Picture: Reuters)
Lorry drivers with a makeshift Christmas tree fashioned out of empty Heineken cans (Picture: PA)
Mr Buchanan said: ‘At the moment, it’s just a case of keep going because we need to make sure we can get as many people out as possible.
‘We still have all the people who delayed travelling, who will start to want to get through. Some people will have parked up in Essex and will be looking at moving again.
‘Next week is a normal working week so I would expect the vehicles to increase then too. It’s not over yet and we will see what happens next.
‘I want to pass on a thank-you to everyone who has helped look after the drivers by giving them food – a lot of people have done a lot of hard work, and it’s really good to see so many people helping.’
Volunteers – including individuals from nearby communities, the Salvation Army, Muslim group Al-Khair Foundation, Sikh group Khalsa Aid HM Coastguard and Kent County Council – have been delivering thousands of warm meals and water to the drivers.
Mr Shapps thanked ‘everyone who’s worked tirelessly over the past few days to reduce the huge disruption’.
‘Police, military, planners, councils, charities, border staff – all have rallied to bring food and drink to stranded hauliers,’ he said.
It comes as the list of countries the mutant strain has spread to grows, with France, Spain, Ireland and Sweden all reporting cases despite the travel bans.
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