Report by Natalie Hardy and Kathy Bailes
Approximately 8,400 hot meals, over 25,000 Covid test applications and more than 14,000 HGVs moved on are just some of the startling statistics of the last week in Kent.
Just before Christmas the French border was closed to UK passengers and accompanied freight with the French government voicing concerns over the virulent new strain of covid spreading in parts of England.
The closure between December 21 and 23 was followed by news that all those travelling to France from the UK needed a negative covid test from within 72 hours of the journey.
The result was thousands of HGVs stacked at Manston airport, the M20, Ashford and many other Kent roads and laybys. Traffic chaos ensued in Dover and roads around Manston, Minster and the Sandwich Bypass.
Emergency services, Army personnel, Coastguard, local authority staff, security, marshalling and other staff at Manston, NHS test teams, French firefighters and Polish doctors, diagnosticians, nurses and paramedics were all drafted in to get the hauliers home following the closure and then reopening of the border with France.
There was also a massive community effort to make sure truckers at Manston, Dover and on the M20 had food, water and hygiene items, including deliveries from individuals, clubs and businesses and members of the Polish and Romanian communities in the UK.
An eventful evening handing out Pizza to stranded drivers in Manston 🚛🍕
We wish everyone a fantastic Christmas, stay safe and we hope to see you in the new year! pic.twitter.com/iP51nVoEY2
— Ramsgate Football Club (@RamsgateFC) December 22, 2020
Kent found itself at the forefront of the widespread cross-Channel traffic disruption.
Thousands of EU-bound lorries and passenger vehicles were left with nowhere to go during one the busiest times of the year for crossings between northern France and the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel.
Partner agencies including Kent Police, Highways England, Kent County Council and Department for Transport under the Kent Resilience Forum activated a number of contingencies including Operation Stack, Operation Brock and the use of Manston Airfield to cope with the increased demand.
Assistant Chief Constable Claire Nix, who is now chairing the KRF’s planned response to potential disruption in the county as a result of the end of the EU Transition period, said: “Last week saw an unprecedented and unforeseeable level of disruption which affected not just Kent but most of the country, such is the importance of the Short Straits route in terms of goods that enter and leave the UK.
“In Kent we felt the effects of the disruption more than most and behind our collective efforts to get the county moving again there are some statistics and facts that we wanted to share with everyone.”
At the height of the disruption, Kent Police called in mutual aid from police forces including Hampshire, Leicestershire and West Mercia, while the majority of officers were placed on extended shifts or picked up extra duties over the Christmas holidays.
Kent County Council received countless donations of food by charitable groups and local businesses which resulted in approximately 8,400 hot meals being provided to stranded lorry drivers.
Highways England managed to put in place its movable barrier to implement Operation Brock on the M20 within 12 hours – an operation that often requires two consecutive night time closures.
To date, members of the army brought into Kent to deliver Covid-19 testing to cross-Channel travellers have administered over 25,000 tests and over the course of last week a total of 14,659 HGVs were transported across the Channel.
There were 68 positive results.
Kent County Council Leader Roger Gough said: “These statistics tell one half of the story and go some way to show the huge logistical challenges that arose during the crisis.
“As a group of partner agencies our number one goal was, and continues to be, to keep people safe and keep the county moving.
Looking back to Christmas Eve when priests and volunteers from the Polish community helped 1000s of truckers parked at Manston Airport unable to cross into France. Some drivers faced Christmas in their cabs. Catholic priests provided confessions, blessings and pastoral care. pic.twitter.com/p4HtHMwPjQ
— Catholic Church (@catholicEW) December 29, 2020
“Of course, we’ve also been amazed and moved by the kindness and humanity shown by people who have rallied to help in whatever way they can. We recognise the pain for many drivers caught up in this and separated from their families at Christmas – yet the Christmas spirit was very much alive in Kent.”
UPDATE DEC 30
More than 19,000 lorries have now crossed the channel. Please get privately tested before you arrive in Kent to avoid delays at the border.
— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) December 30, 2020