Trucks began boarding ferries in Dover on Thursday to cross the English Channel for the first time in four days, a step toward ending a thousands-deep traffic jam that piled up at the border after France banned crossings from Britain to limit the spread of a coronavirus variant.
Sea, rail and air routes had been reopened more than 24 hours earlier, after London agreed to conduct virus tests for the drivers, but the backlog only began to clear on Thursday after the British authorities set up screening and started clearing the healthy to travel.
Members of the British military were dispatched to help test the thousands of drivers.
The magnitude of the task meant that movement remained slow on Thursday morning. It could take days to fully clear the logjam, officials said, meaning that many drivers were unlikely to make it home for Christmas Day.
Hordes of drivers have been left stranded after the border’s abrupt closure, leaving them with nowhere to go and little access to food or public facilities. Many have been forced to sleep in their rigs for several nights, and even with the route open, exasperation was on show on Thursday, with some truckers spelling out the word “HELP” with traffic cones, according to a picture in The Guardian.
“It’s like a horror movie,” said Ravinder Singh, chief executive of Khalsa Aid, which has been distributing meals to drivers stuck on the highway. “For them it’s a prison: They can’t go anywhere,” he added.
About 6,000 trucks remained stuck in Dover and on the approach to the port on Thursday, with 4,000 of them parked at a disused airport that has been turned into a holding area, the BBC reported.
The government in Kent, the county that includes Dover, has been working with aid organizations to provide food and water to drivers. Supermarkets and local businesses in the southeast of England have also made donations, council officials said, adding that more portable toilets had also been installed along the highway.
Roger Gough, the leader of the Kent council, said in a statement that he hoped the situation would steadily improve.
“I have, however, deep sympathy for those for whom this will come too late to spend Christmas with their families,” Mr. Gough said.
In other developments around the world:
Austria allowed ski hills to open on Thursday, but required all skiers age 14 and older to wear respirator masks in public areas and while riding gondolas. Hotels, restaurants and bars remain closed. Austria is easing its lockdown for the Christmas holiday starting Thursday, lifting a nightly curfew and allowing up to 10 people from 10 different households to meet. On Saturday, restrictions will tighten again through mid-January. The country of 8.8 million people recorded 2,131 new cases of infection on Thursday.
China will suspend direct flights to and from Britain indefinitely over concerns of the infectious variant spreading there, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Thursday. China has barred nonresident travelers from Belgium, Britain, France, India and the Philippines since November, but kept its borders open to Chinese nationals, including students studying in those countries.
Prime Minister Ana Brnabic of Serbia received the country’s first Covid-19 vaccine on Thursday, Reuters reported, kicking off a mass inoculation drive. Some 4,875 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were flown in on Tuesday, making Serbia the first Balkan nation to acquire shots. Ms. Brnabic said the country was also expecting shipments of China’s Sinopharm and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines, and that President Aleksandar Vucic would most likely get the Sinopharm vaccine. “We agreed that the two us take shots from different producers,” she told reporters.
European Union member nations are set to begin vaccinations on Sunday. In France, where the National Authority for Health approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the authorities have ordered about 200 million doses and have outlined a three-phase vaccination strategy, starting with retirement homes and hospitals. Spain’s first Covid-19 vaccination is to take place on Sunday in a nursing home in the central city of Guadalajara.
Melissa Eddy, Tiffany May, Raphael Minder, Constant Méheut and Eshe Nelson contributed reporting.