Truck Jam Eases at U.K. Port Days After France Reopens Border

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LONDON — A huge truck jam at the Port of Dover in England eased further on Saturday, days after France lifted a border blockade imposed over fears of a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus that is spreading in Europe and to Japan.

As many as 6,000 trucks had lined up at the height of the days-long jam, and many drivers spent a bleak Christmas sleeping in their vehicles as France demanded that all those crossing the border show proof of a negative coronavirus test.

“It was shocking to see that in a G7 country like the U.K., that such things would happen,” said Benjamin Richtzenhain, a traveler who crossed the English Channel on Thursday. He said that the authorities had communicated poorly to those in the logjam and that access to water, bathrooms and blankets had been limited.

The misery at the port added to a general sense of gloom permeating the holiday season in the country. Christmas came scarcely a week after the government announced the presence of a fast-spreading coronavirus variant sweeping the country and imposed widespread lockdowns and other tight restrictions.

A last-minute Brexit deal with the European Union on Thursday meant that Britain narrowly avoided crashing out of the bloc without an agreement, but also drove home a sense of isolation. And dozens of countries have restricted travel from Britain in the hopes of shutting out the new virus variant, disrupting plans during one of Europe’s biggest holidays.

Even with the new restrictions around the world, the virus variant has already spread to France, Spain and Japan. On Saturday, Japan’s government banned entry to non-Japanese nationals to prevent the spread of the new strain, according to Japanese media.

By Saturday morning, officials from the U.K. transportation department said that about 1,600 vehicles remained in the traffic jam near the port while at least 8,000 had crossed the English Channel via the Eurotunnel since Wednesday, when the authorities ramped up testing.

At the port, officials worked intensively on Saturday to test the remaining drivers in hopes of clearing the backup. More than 15,526 have been tested, with 36 coming up positive, the department said.

Hundreds more military personnel were deployed on Friday to reinforce testing efforts and to distribute food and water provided by an array of organizations.

But almost a week after the blockages of sea, rail and air routes, the magnitude of the task made it impossible to predict when the delays would clear and whether drivers would spend yet another day in limbo and another night sleeping in their trucks.

Thousands of police officers, civilian testers, council planners and port workers gave up their Christmas to help reunite drivers with loved ones, said Grant Shapps, Britain’s transportation secretary, who praised their efforts.

London’s airports were fairly quiet on Saturday, with no signs of a rush to travel a day after the United States imposed new restrictions on people flying in from Britain. Starting on Monday, passengers to the United States must submit evidence of a negative coronavirus test.

A spokesman for Heathrow Airport said that significant numbers of travelers were not expected on Saturday, and that the day after Christmas was typically a quiet travel day.

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