Britain says thousands of lorries cross Channel after virus testing stepped up

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British soldiers check vehicles at the entrance of the Port of Dover

DOVER, England (Reuters) - More than 4,500 lorries, among a huge backlog of trucks stranded for days in the British port of Dover, crossed the Channel on Friday after extra troops were deployed to step up coronavirus testing, a minister said.

Ferry services between Dover and the French port of Calais resumed on Thursday, ending a blockade France had imposed for several days following the discovery of a new coronavirus variant in England.

British transport minister Grant Shapps said on Twitter on Friday that more than 10,000 coronavirus tests had been carried out on lorry drivers and only 24 of them had tested positive.

"Over 4,500 HGVs (heavy goods vehicles) are back over the Channel," Shapps said.

Britain deployed additional troops to help clear the queues of lorries waiting for COVID-19 tests before being allowed to board cross-channel ferries. British media said 800 extra soldiers were sent to support 300 initially deployed.

Soldiers checked vehicles and drivers' documents at the entrance to the port. In one case, French officials, who were in Dover to help clear the backlog, were seen administering a nasal swab to a driver.

The French and British governments agreed to end the blockade on Tuesday but the British authorities had said it would take days to clear the long lines of trucks.

(Reporting by Henry Nicholls and Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Gareth Jones)