Supermarkets fear they will start to face shortages on fresh produce from Sunday, the British Retail Consortium has warned. Speaking in Parliament, Andrew Opie, chief of the industry body said without urgent movement, the border crisis will start to result in food delays by the weekend.
He said: “Unless movement resumes in next 24 hours, from December 27 some fresh produce will not make it to shelves.”
But he said popular Christmas items will not be affected by the delays and said: “People can shop with confidence for now.”
Supermarkets have been swamped with customers in the last 48 hours, as shoppers scramble to get their Christmas food shops.
Several shelves have been left bare and as the border is still shut with France, many fear shortages will soon cause havoc.
On Sunday France announced it was shutting the borders to Britain, after a mutated variant of COVID-19 was found to be spreading rapidly across Southern England.
The move has left hundreds of truckers stranded, with queues of lorries snaking along Kent’s roads.
Boris Johnson has been scrambling to get French President Emmanuel Macron to allow the Dover-Calais route to reopen.
A Department for Transport spokeswoman said that as of 6am on December 22, there were 873 HGVs on the Manston site, with a further 650 vehicles on the M20 between J11-9 which would be moved to Manston.
Eurotunnel Freight posted on Twitter that an agreement could be reached for drivers to enter France if they could provide a negative COVID-19 test.
A spokeswoman for the Port of Dover said: “Nothing has changed, the port is still closed, we are waiting to hear any updates.”
Duncan Buchanan, directory of policy at the Road Haulage Association,has warned the backlog of lorries could total 7,000 by tonight.
As a result, he warned the UK was heading for “supply chain disruption of the like we have never experienced”, with shortages in shops after Christmas.
It is understood the UK government has offered to use the military to carry out quick-turnaround lateral flow tests to check drivers are negative for COVID-19, but Paris isbelieved to be holding out for the more reliable PCR test, which takes a day or more to produce results.
But Mr Buchanan told MPs that gathering truckers at a holding point in Kent to test them for coronavirus would force them to get out of their cabs and mingle, creating an opportunity for the disease to spread.
Mr Buchanan told the House of Commons Business Committee: “We’re hearing now about the prospect of drivers being tested before they go back to France. Personally, I think it’s a waste of time.
“You’re better off having the trucks moving and no-one mixing. We’ve had very low infection rates in the haulage sector, right since the beginning of Covid, because we had the right protocols in place almost immediately in the warehouses and supply chains around the country. So there is a lower incidence of Covid amongst drivers than there is in almost every other category.
“What we’re doing by stopping the drivers and sending them all to a field in the middle of Kent is they’re going to start mixing. This is actually counterproductive. I think it is a knee-jerk reaction.”
More to follow…