THE UK’s Covid vaccine supply won’t be disrupted by France’s travel ban, the Transport Secretary has said today.
Grant Shapps said despite the border closure for freight and travel from the UK, containers carrying the jabs are still allowed through Dover.
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The ban, which was announced yesterday, sparked fears of a breakdown in vaccine, food and goods supplied over Christmas.
Boris Johnson is set to meet his emergency Cobra team today to address the 48-hour blockade ordered by President Emmanuel Macron.
Mr Shapps told Sky News: “There’s no issue (with the vaccine) at all. Most of the vaccine does not come on a.. roll in, roll off… in other words it’s not accompanied by a driver it comes on containers.
“There are good supplies in the meantime so there won’t be an impact on the vaccination programme.
“But it’s obviously important we get this resolved with the French and that’s what we’ll be trying to do today.”
Supermarkets face major shortages of food and Christmas goods after France closed its UK border.
There was chaos at Britain’s busiest port in Dover overnight as people were left stranded in the cold after the sudden closure.
The port has now been closed, sparking fears for deliveries to and from Calais in the lead up to Christmas.
Lorry drivers were arriving at the port throughout the night and into the morning, only to be turned away by cops and port authorities.
Queues stretched seven miles at ports in both Britain and France as the ban added to existing worries over Christmas stockpiling and Brexit uncertainty.
The new mutant strain causing the sudden ban is feared to be 70 per cent more infectious.
An industry source said: “Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse — disaster on top of disaster. I fear for supermarket supply chains.
“It’s the panic buying we are most worried about. The chains have held up all year but only if people are sensible.”
There were also rising fears the blockade could disrupt vital supplies of the Pfizer Biotech vaccine to the UK which is made in Belgium.
Military aircraft could airlift supplies of the vaccine from Belgium if the freight ban stays in place for longer than 48 hours, The Department of Health confirmed.
Tonight, a government spokesman said it was expecting “significant disruption in Kent” after the French ban kicked in from 11pm.
SUPPLY CHAIN FEARS
A government spokesman said: “As a result we are urging everybody – including all hauliers – to avoid travelling to Kent ports until further notice.
“We are working closely with Kent Resilience Forum, Kent Council and Highways England to ensure contingency measures are urgently put in place to manage disruption, and the Prime Minister will chair a COBR meeting tomorrow to discuss the situation.”
Shortly afterwards, Operation Stack, the emergency measure to avoid gridlock in Kent, kicked in along the coastbound M20, with the road between junctions 8 and 11 closed to traffic.
Ministers have been preparing for months for border chaos from a possible No Deal Brexit and will bring forward contingency plans.
EU states will discuss their response to the new virus strain in a call this morning. It has now reportedly been found in Italy.
Germany, Holland, Belgium, Austria and Bulgaria were also halting flights. Trains to Belgium were suspended and Ireland introduced a 48-hour ban on travellers from midnight.
Ian Wright, of the Food and Drink Federation, said the suspension of freight traffic could cause “serious disruption”.
He added: “Continental truckers will not want to travel here if they fear getting marooned.
“The Government must very urgently persuade the French government to exempt accompanied freight from its ban.”
Roads such as the A40 clogged up and airports like Heathrow were packed.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council told The Sun “blatant” rule-breakers would receive fixed-penalty notices. Leader Martin Hewitt said: “These restrictions will be upsetting for many after a very challenging year.
“But most people will want to do what they can to protect public health and the health of their loved ones. We urge everyone to follow the rules in their area.
“We are confident that the majority of people will continue to do their best to adapt and do the right thing.
“Those who blatantly ignore the regulations should expect to receive a fixed penalty notice.
“Clear guidance will be developed for officers who are policing these regulations, and they will continue to play their part in helping the public navigate and understand changes in their area.”
British Transport Police revealed they were boosting officer numbers across the southern transport network to ensure people were making only essential journeys.
Assistant Chief Constable Sean O’Callaghan said his force’s policing method “remained the same” — with officers engaging with passengers and dishing out fines if “absolutely necessary”.
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The Met Police warned the “most dangerous and flagrant breaches” of Tier 4 regulations would be hit with penalties, tweeting: “Don’t risk a fine in the lead up to Christmas.”
In Scotland, cops said they would double their presence along the border after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a clampdown.
Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said “highly visible patrols” on roads would be used to “deter anyone who might be considering breaching the coronavirus travel restrictions”.