A Polish lorry driver has told how he had to make the heartbreaking call to his pregnant wife and daughters telling them he was unlikely to make it home for Christmas, and would instead be spending it in his cab stuck on the A20 in Dover.
Wojtek Golawski is one of thousands of truckers stranded in Kent and facing disappointment over the festive season, with just 200 tests an hour being carried out on Wednesday.
There was then more confusion as it emerged that testing on Jubilee Way, the main route into the Port of Dover, was shut down for the night before 10pm.
The Department for Transport insisted the immediate priority had been to clear the main backlog of vehicles along that road, that testing would resume there in the morning, and that a 24/7 operation was also in force at Manston Airport, where thousands are parked up, and on the M20 motorway.
A spokesman added that the absence of testers in Dover overnight wouldn’t prevent access to the port, while the number of drivers tested each hour on Thursday is expected to ramp up to 500 or 600, with officials looking to set up ten mobile testing units for truckers stuck in queues.
The Armed Forces have been brought in to the help with the testing effort, with 170 soldiers assisting 100 NHS staff working from 10 mobile testing units.
It comes amid fears of food shortages and clashes with police as tensions boiled over yesterday, even after France lifted its ban on arrivals from the UK.
Wojtek, from Lukow in Poland, had travelled to Britain in Sunday with pallets full of clothes, which he delivered to a depot in Nottingham.
However the French authorities closed their border with Britain later that day following the emergence of a particularly contagious strain of Covid-19 which is now rampant in the UK.
Like thousands of other delivery drivers, the 34-year-old has been stuck in Kent since the weekend.
Police have finally started letting drivers into the Port of Dover to be tested for coronavirus and, if negative, they can begin their journeys home.
Around 6,000 lorries, 4,000 at Manston Airfield and 2,000 on the M20, are said to be waiting to cross the Channel. Highways England has warned all drivers – including hauliers – to avoid travelling to Kent until further notice due to continued cross-channel disruption.
Grant Shapps last night said he was unsure at how long it would take to clear the backlog, but said he hoped it would be sorted ‘by New Year’.
He told the Telegraph: ‘We don’t know how long it will take to resolve, [I am] very hopeful it will be done before the new year.’
Wojtek, meanwhile, is parked a mile and a half from the front of the queue and so will almost certainly not make it back home in time to see his two girls aged three and five open their presents.
He said: ‘It’s a horrible situation and it shouldn’t have got to this, I think it’s France trying to flex their muscles before Brexit.
‘But it means that I’m not going to make it home to my daughters and to my wife, who is seven months pregnant.
‘I had to make a very tough phone call to her earlier this evening to say that the problems in England meant I would have to miss Christmas this year.
‘She and the girls were very upset and so was I. It’s going to be depressing celebrating it on my own in the same lorry cab I’ve spent the last two nights sleeping in.
‘But this is what’s happening and I have to accept it. Even if I make the ferry to France tomorrow, it’s still a huge drive.
‘Miracles do happen, especially at this time of year, but I think I’ll be in England for a few more days at least.’
Wojtek Golawski, pictured, said he was going to have to spend the peak of the festive season in his lorry cab stuck on the A20 in Dover rather than with his family in Lukow in Poland
Police officers and lorry drivers congregate at the entrance to the Port of Dover this evening as testing gets underway
Military personnel helping to take samples from drivers parked in the Port of Dover in Kent in a bid to get them moving again
The Army has been drafted in to help this evening after as few as 200 tests an hour were carried out earlier today in Kent
It is not known how many tests the Army is looking to carry out per hour but sources say it will be a ‘relentless operation’
Trucker named John Christmas admits he’s likely to spend festive season in a lay-by
Unlucky trucker John Christmas has admitted he will likely spend the festive season in his lorry parked in a lay-by.
The aptly-named Romanian driver will not make it home on Christmas Day as he cannot make it to Dover due to traffic problems.
He is currently parked at the side of Manston roundabout 18-miles from the port.
Unlucky trucker John Christmas has admitted he will likely spend the festive season in his lorry parked in a lay-by
Mr Christmas transports water from Dover to Birmingham but has been unable to get near the Port due to the traffic gridlock as thousands of other drivers try to reach France to continue home.
He told Kent Live: ‘I will spend Christmas in my trailer, whether it’s at the side of this road or in a car park in Birmingham, that’s unavoidable now.
‘I don’t need a COVID test. I have been waiting for hours but they won’t let me go.
‘All I need to do is go to Dover to drop my truck and pick up another one, but I cannot go there.
‘After that I will need to back to Birmingham and then back home to Romania.’
Meanwhile at the front of the queue Catana Florian, who had transported 20 dogs and six cats rescued from the streets of Bucharest to new homes in Britain, was hoping to make it back to Romania to see his wife and seven-year-old daughter.
He had made drop offs in Kent, Peterborough, Norwich and Colchester but had got stuck in Dover when the French closed the border.
The 45-year-old was hoping to get on a Calais-bound ferry this evening to make the 28-hour drive home to Craiova.
He said: ‘I’ve made people’s Christmases by delivering them a new family pet – now I’m hoping the British and French authorities can make mine.
‘Myself and a colleague have been sleeping in the back of our van since Sunday and I’m now wearing old clothes again as I have no fresh ones.
‘We’ve been waiting such a long time to go home and now at last it looks like we are going to making the ferry at last as long as we test negative for Covid.
‘It’s cold and wet and I just want to see my wife and little girl again and be there with them for the big day.
‘As long as there’s no more hold-ups we should make it, that would be the best gift of all.’
Filipe Mayo, a truck driver from Portugal who has been waiting to cross into Calais for four days, told BBC Radio Four’s Today Programme: ‘At the moment I’m stuck inside my truck.
‘There are two lanes, one in the left and one in the right to the tunnel and shuttle. The right side where I am right now goes directly to Dover.
They stop us right now, nothing Is happening. We are just waiting for the instructions of the police who sometimes knock the door of the truck and say look forward and wait.
‘And that’s it for basically the last five hours. We are waiting for the coronavirus tests so nobody really knows how much time it’s going to take to get the test, so we are just waiting in the road.’
NHS staff arrived at Dover and began rolling out lateral flow tests which detect the new particularly contagious strain of Covid-19 and provides results in around 30 minutes, rather than the 24 hours required after a PCR test.
In order for anyone to travel through France, they must first produce a negative test.
A testing site had been set up at Manston Airfield, 18 miles from Dover, earlier this morning but the thousands of drivers who had parked up in the town after causing two mile tailbacks and traffic gridlock last night were unable to reach it.
NHS staff were instead bussed to Dover where the initial plan was to have them testing drivers while going from lorry to lorry but after police officers were attacked by frustrated drivers desperate to go home, 30 vehicles at a time were instead processed into the port to be tested.
The truckers’ struggles come as it emerged officials performed as few as 200 tests an hour in Kent, sparking fears the gridlock that has dominated the county all week, and seen 10,000 truckers stranded, could last for days.
Fights broke out between lorry drivers and police at Dover and Manston Airport as tensions boiled over while testing staff set up swabbing centres in a bid to get them across the Channel for Christmas.
But contractors have struggled to deliver the huge scale of testing ministers had hoped to see today, with the military now in place to try and speed up efforts, which sources have described as a ‘relentless operation’.
At the front of the queue Catana Florian, pictured, who had transported 20 dogs and six cats rescued from the streets of Bucharest to new homes in Britain, was hoping to make it back to Romania to see his wife and seven-year-old daughter
A man is detained by police officers after a scuffle at the Port of Dover as tensions continue to boil over following the French travel ban
Police make an arrest at entrance to the Port of Dover, which is blocked by police as vehicles queue to be allowed to leave
Several police officers surround a man who is put in handcuffs at the Port of Dover where tensions have boiled over today
Police spoke to frustrated truck drivers this evening amid a large testing programme to try and get them back on the road
Cars drive towards check-in at the Port of Dover in Kent, after French authorities announced that journeys from the UK will be allowed to resume after the coronavirus ban was lifted, but those seeking to travel must have a negative test result
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron last night agreed a deal to let lorry drivers into France with a negative 30-minute lateral flow coronavirus test, after two days of chaotic gridlock following the French president’s fears over the new super-infectious strain of Covid-19 sweeping across Britain and other countries.
The Road Haulage Association said the chaos will probably last until Boxing Day with between 100 and 300 tests being carried out per hour at Manston and a total of more than 6,000 lorries to get through. Alongside Manston, tests have taken place at the Port of Dover itself.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, today warned the backlog could cause issues in the supply of fresh goods to Britain. He told the Telegraph: ‘Until the backlog is cleared and supply chains return to normal, we anticipate issues with the availability of some fresh goods.’
A major flashpoint in Kent was at the entrance to the port, where drivers blocked the entrance in anger at not being allowed to cross the Channel without a negative coronavirus test from the UK Government.
To get that test – which is self-administered – they had to travel 18 miles to Manston, which is already full with 3,800 lorry drivers who also clashed with police today and broke out of the site in running battles with officers. Two men were led into a police van in handcuffs by officers earlier following a scuffle.
However, a further test site was this afternoon being set up at the entrance to the Port of Dover, although the junction was blocked by vans and cars with some even parked in the wrong direction. Other centres were also being put in place at at Dreamland amusement park in Margate and on the M20 heading towards Folkestone.
The first testers arrived at Dover shortly before 3.30pm, as four police cars escorted nine vehicles driven by medics into a car park. Officers were seen speaking to three women wearing blue disposable face masks and hi-vis jackets with the NHS Test and Trace logo before they walked towards the port’s passenger reception.
Dozens of truckers trying to reach their homes on the Continent tried to force their way past officers guarding the Port of Dover this morning. Hundreds left their cabs and walked along the A20 to the port entrance jeering and whistling, with some shouting in English: ‘Open the border’, ‘We just want to go home’ and ‘F*** you, Boris!’
At one point several of them surged forwards towards a line of Kent Police officers who were forced to push them back as days of simmering anger at the chaotic situation amid the pandemic bubbled to the surface. Some drivers showed police apparently negative results, but an officer said a lot of them were ‘fake test sheets’.
Tensions also boiled over at Manston Airport, where truckers whose lorries are being held staged a protest, broke down fences and blocked roads. Some 150 members of the Armed Forces and NHS staff are working to administer Covid-19 tests at the airport, which are handed to drivers in their cabs to be self-administered under supervision.
The result will then be communicated to the driver via text or email, identifying them via their numberplate. It wasn’t until after 5pm that Kent Council leader Roger Gough said the first 20 trucks have entered the Eurotunnel to make the crossing.
Meanwhile, a blue van, a white van and a silver Ford Mondeo were the first three vehicles to seemingly get the all clear and be allowed to drive through the port at just before 6.30pm. These were then replaced by a further 12 vehicles shortly afterwards.
A Test and Trace worker wearing PPE talks to a van driver at the Port of Dover earlier this evening in a bid to get traffic moving
Vehicles lined up this evening at a check point close to the entrance to the Port of Dover, where thousands are looking to head
Officials talk to drivers as testing commences at the Port of Dover with the aim of getting traffic moving over the Channel
Staff members wearing hi-vis jackets and visors talk to drivers as testing gets underway at the Port of Dover this evening
Testing has begun at the Port of Dover after a deal was finally struck between French and British officials late last night
A further test site was this afternoon being set up at the entrance to the Port of Dover, although the junction was blocked by vans and cars with some even parked in the wrong direction
Testers prepare to take samples from drivers parked in the Port of Dover in Kent after French authorities announced that the coronavirus ban was lifted and journeys from the UK will be allowed to resume
Cllr Gough said tensions between police and drivers had calmed down but added the situation remained ‘quite fragile’.
He said 100 lorries have left the Manston site for Dover but had been unable to get to the port as it was being blocked by other vehicles.
‘On the M20 side of things, the first 20 HGVs have gone into Eurotunnel,’ Mr Gough told Sky News, adding that the number should begin to ‘pick up’ rapidly.
Clashes broke out again between drivers and police at Dover earlier in the day as officers moved vehicles away from outside the entrance to make room for the testing centre. One driver laid down on the ground to stop a freight lorry which had earlier come off a ferry from Calais from leaving Dover with about 50 drivers involved in a flare-up.
Any new lorries arriving at Manston, a disused former military airfield, were being directed to Operation Brock on the M20, where 610 vehicles were waiting. A further 632 were placed in Operation Stack on the same motorway.
It comes as Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick warned it may take a ‘few days’ to clear the backlog of lorries waiting to cross the Channel. He had initially said he hoped HGVs would begin crossing this morning.
But lorry drivers at the entrance have been honking their horns and shouting in protest at being stuck. Standing in small groups, they shouted ‘we want to go home’ as they tried to shelter from heavy rain and strong winds.
A deal was finally struck with France after a ban on UK arrivals was imposed by President Macron on Sunday, which has since seen thousands of trucks stranded in Kent, unable to cross the Channel.
The agreement requires every driver to have been tested for coronavirus, using controversial lateral flow tests, which are able to turn around results in under an hour but have had their effectiveness questioned.
However experts warned the UK still faces an uphill battle to test 6,000 drivers a day for coronavirus – with the International Road Transport Union warning even a 30-minute test would be ‘absolutely a disaster’.
Kent Police said a man was arrested today in Dover for obstructing a highway and remains in custody, adding that there were ‘disturbances involving individuals in both Dover and at the DfT-run lorry holding facility at Manston’.
A spokesman also said: ‘At around 10.20am on Wednesday 23 December 2020 in Tothill Street, Minster, two men aged 24 and 35, in separate incidents, were arrested on suspicion of assaulting an emergency worker and were taken into custody.’
Detectives added that officers at both locations were ‘working with partner agencies to make sure those hoping to travel to the continent adhere to the latest Government travel requirements regarding Covid testing’.
A Port of Dover spokesman said no lorries had yet been able to pass through the port and couldn’t say how long it would take to clear the backlog. Officials also confirmed there were no testing facilities at the port itself.
And Eurotunnel officials said the first trucks started to arrive at its Folkestone terminal at 8am today, adding that all drivers must use the M20 and join the queue on the coastbound lanes where they will be tested for Covid-19.
Truckers clash with police at Manston Airport in Kent this morning where thousands of lorries are currently parked up
Truckers hold up their hands as they clash with police at the disused Manston Airport in Kent this morning
Truckers clash with police in Manston, where they have blockaded the A299 in Kent this morning in a mass protest
Lorry drivers at the entrance have been honking their horns and shouting in protest at being stuck. Standing in small groups, they shouted ‘we want to go home’ as they tried to shelter from heavy rain and strong winds
A Port of Dover spokesman said no lorries had yet been able to pass through the port and couldn’t say how long it would take to clear the backlog. Officials also confirmed there were no testing facilities at the port itself
Freight lorries lined up in Manston Airport in Kent as drivers wait to get tested for coronavirus this afternoon
Dark clouds loom over thousands of lorries parked up at Manston airfield in Kent, waiting to be given the green light to continue their journey over the Channel
Truckers remove traffic cones before clashing with police outside Manston Airport in Kent this morning
Hundreds of angry truckers have blockaded the A299 at Manston Airport in Kent this morning in a mass protest
Freight lorries lined up in Manston today after the French announced that journeys from the UK will be allowed to resume
Angry truckers speak to police amid chaotic scenes at the A299 at Manston Airport in Kent this morning
Lorry drivers carry out a mass protest at the A299 at Manston Airport in Kent this morning as the chaos continues
Chaos at Manston Airport in Kent this morning where the Covid testing station has been set up for the truckers