Hancock puts six million MORE people into Tier 4 as Oxfordshire and East Anglia join Home Counties


New areas entering Tier 4 from Boxing Day

Surrey: Waverley

West Sussex: All

East Sussex: Eastbourne, Lewes and Wealden districts, plus Brighton and Hove

Hampshire: Basingstoke and Deane, East Hampshire,  Eastleigh, Fareham, Hart, Rushmoor, Test Valley,  Winchester, Southampton

Essex: All apart from Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring, which are already in Tier 4

Norfolk

Suffolk

Cambridgeshire

Oxfordshire 

 

Matt Hancock plunged millions more families into Tier 4 today as he attempted to halt the rise of a new strain of coronavirus across England.

The Health Secretary told the remaining parts of the South East not already in the toughest level they would be in it little more than 48 hours.

He broke the news in a press conference this afternoon after Sage experts revealed the coronavirus R rate in Britain linked to the new variety of Covid has risen to between 1.1 and 1.3. 

The outbreak of the new variant of Covid-19 is spreading fastest in London and the East of England, where the R could be as high as a shocking 1.5, and it is at least one or higher in every region of England except the North East and North West.

West Sussex and the parts of East Sussex, Essex, Surrey and Hampshire not already in the top tier will enter Tier 4  from a minute past midnight on Boxing Day, with the exception of the New Forest.

They will be joined by Oxfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

An additional six million people will be in Tier 4 as a result, bringing the total to 24million, or 43 per cent of the population of England.

Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Swindon, the Isle of Wight, the New Forest and Northamptonshire will go from Tier 2 to Tier 3, as will Cheshire and Warrington.

And Cornwall and Herefordshire will enter Tier 2, meaning only the Isles of Scilly remains in the lowest Tier 1.

An extra 50,000 business premises, including non-essential retailers, hairdressers and gyms, will be forced to close, according to new data from real estate adviser Altus Group.

A total of 168,448 businesses are already closed in Tier 4 areas, according to the data.

Additionally, a second new strain linked to South African arrivals has been identified in the UK, and Mr Hancock said all flights from the nation had been halted.   

However, there are fears that a new nationwide lockdown for England is inevitable in January – when children are due to return to school.

The new variant prevalent in the South East has doubled the number of cases in a week, with another 36,804 new infections recorded yesterday, and 691 deaths. 

This week marks the third week in a row that the figure has risen since the national lockdown brought it down to 1.0 in November. 

SAGE, which is headed up by chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance, said: ‘All NHS England regions have R estimates that are above or span 1, suggesting the epidemic is growing in much of the country, with London, the South East, and the East of England clearly above 1.’

The estimates, which take into account data up to December 18 so don’t include any effects of the Tier Four rules in London and the South East, come as a new, more infectious strain of the coronavirus is fast becoming dominant in the South.

The variant, now known as B.1.1.7, has spread like wildfire across the capital and home counties and is thought to be on track to become the main version of coronavirus circulating in the UK.

Professor Neil Ferguson, a prolific epidemiologist and Government adviser dubbed ‘Professor Lockdown’, today said it appeared to have triggered ‘explosive outbreaks’ in schools in London.       

In another day of coronavirus chaos in Britain: 

  • Gridlock in Kent could last for days after fights broke out between lorry drivers and police at the Port of Dover and Manston Airport – and testing staff arrived in an attempt to get them across the Channel for Christmas 
  • Nicola Sturgeon said she has ‘no excuses’ for breaking coronavirus rules, as she apologised in the Scottish Parliament after being photographed not wearing a face mask at a pub
  • Police in York slammed drinkers who travelled to the Tier 2 city’s pubs from neighbouring Tier 3 locations after officers handed out a ‘shocking’ number of fines;
  • There have been ‘explosive’ outbreaks in schools in and the South East in recent weeks, according to Professor Neil Ferguson. 
  • Rapid coronavirus tests will cause outbreaks in schools if the Government presses on with plans to roll them out nationally because they are so inaccurate, a top scientist has warned;
  • Scientists researching the new variant of coronavirus say they have no proof it is more infectious in children, despite claims it may be more infectious to youngsters than the original strain;
  • The multi-millionaire Marquess of Bute and his socialite daughter were charged over an alleged breach of coronavirus restrictions but could face a fine of just £30;
  • The UK economy grew by 16 per cent between July and September after coronavirus lockdown rules were eased – but GDP was still almost nine per cent below where it was at the end of 2019.

The Health Secretary told the remaining parts of the South East not already in the toughest level they would be in it little more than 48 hours.

The Health Secretary told the remaining parts of the South East not already in the toughest level they would be in it little more than 48 hours.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News this morning 'it may be necessary to take further action' to limit the spread of the new coronavirus variant amid speculation of wider lockdown measures

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News this morning ‘it may be necessary to take further action’ to limit the spread of the new coronavirus variant amid speculation of wider lockdown measures

Health bosses are set to meet today to review the current tiers in place across England, as Boris Johnson faces growing pressure to tighten restrictions. One expert warned Britain faced a 'human disaster' unless ministers impose 'stricter' rules across the country

Health bosses are set to meet today to review the current tiers in place across England, as Boris Johnson faces growing pressure to tighten restrictions. One expert warned Britain faced a ‘human disaster’ unless ministers impose ‘stricter’ rules across the country

Government officials today looked at plans for a third lockdown across the whole of England as the new coronavirus strain - thought to be up to 70 per cent more infectious - spread to the South West, Midlands and the North (pictured: Market Street in Manchester yesterday).

Government officials today looked at plans for a third lockdown across the whole of England as the new coronavirus strain – thought to be up to 70 per cent more infectious – spread to the South West, Midlands and the North (pictured: Market Street in Manchester yesterday).

NHS workers ‘frustrated’ as admin staff get Covid vaccine BEFORE doctors 

NHS workers are ‘frustrated’ that admin staff are being offered the Covid-19 vaccine before frontline doctors and nurses and that hospitals and GP surgeries face delays to deliveries of the crucial jab.

The British Medical Association (BMA) warned it was ‘deeply worrying’ that access to the jab was not equal across the health service, amid concerns that GPs in high risk roles are being turned away from vaccination hubs.

Writing in a letter to the chief executive of NHS England Sir Simon Stevens, BMA chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said there was ‘no consistent approach’ to vaccinating frontline staff for the virus, and urged trusts to prioritise those who are most at risk.

The Doctors Association UK (DAUK) wrote to the Health Secretary Matt Hancock to call on him to let all doctors and nurses know when they would receive the vaccine.

The programme has been hit by delays since it started but had managed to get jabs into the arms of 500,000 people by Monday, Boris Johnson said.

But more than half of the 135 NHS Trusts in England are still waiting to receive deliveries of the jab, now two weeks after it was approved by regulators, reports The Guardian.

Only 57 trusts – 42 per cent – have so far taken delivery, with Department of Health officials claiming all will have received their first delivery by January 4.

And around two thirds of GP surgeries that signed up to dole out the vaccines are also said to still be waiting.

 

It came as a senior minister sowed confusion this morning over whether Christmas Day bubbles could be axed at the last minute, potentially throwing the Christmas plans of millions into further chaos.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick initially refused to rule out changes being made to the plan to allow extended households to meed on December 25th amid a surge in cases powered by a mutant Covid strain.

Mr Jenrick told Sky News this morning: ‘If we need to change that (Christmas plans) in light of the new variant, then we won’t hesitate to do so.’ 

But later on BBC Breakfast he said it was ‘extremely unlikely’ that Christmas Day plans would be upended with less than 48 hours to go until presents are unwrapped.

He told BBC Breakfast there were currently  ‘no plans’ to make changes for the 25th – despite earlier confirming ministers and experts are due to meet this morning to discuss what changes to England’s tiers are required in the face of the growth in cases.

It was only in his third interview of the morning, to Radio 4’s Today Programme, that he vowed: ‘We are not going to change people’s plans 24-48 hours before Christmas.’  

 

It came as chaos spread across Kent, with fights breaking out between lorry drivers and police at the Port of Dover and Manston Airport.

Dozens of truckers trying to reach their homes on the Continent tried to force their way past officers guarding the port today as they bid to get home for Christmas.

Hundreds left their cabs and walked along the A20 to the port entrance in Kent at 8am 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 Covid-19 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 18 miles away at Manston Airport, where truckers whose lorries are being held staged a protest, broke down fences and blocked roads. The Army and NHS staff are working together to administer Covid-19 tests at the airport, which are handed to drivers in their cabs to be self-administered under supervision. 

Mr Jenrick told Sky News this morning ‘it may be necessary to take further action’ to limit the spread of the new coronavirus variant amid speculation of wider lockdown measures. 

‘We don’t have a timetable for that. The Government’s Covid operations committee is meeting later today to review further evidence,’ he said.

‘We keep this under review, we are constantly hearing from our scientific advisers about what we should do.’

The new variant is ‘very concerning’ and was ‘prevalent probably in most regions of the country’.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon apologises for breaking Scots Covid rules at funeral wake

Nicola Sturgeon has been caught flouting Covid rules by speaking to pensioners in a pub without wearing a mask.

The Scottish first minister has had to apologise for her lapse after months of advocating draconian regulations.

The SNP leader, 50, was photographed chatting to three women at a wake last week in Edinburgh. Rules drawn up by her Scottish devolved government state customers in hospitality settings must wear a face covering unless seated at a table.

But though the SNP leader appeared to socially distance herself from the women, pictures show she was still standing away from her table without a face mask at the Stable Bar and Restaurant.

‘Last Friday, while attending a funeral wake, I had my mask off briefly. This was a stupid mistake and I’m really sorry,’ she told The Scottish Sun.

‘I talk every day about the importance of masks, so I’m not going to offer any excuses. I was in the wrong, I’m kicking myself and I’m sorry.’ 

Home Secretary Priti Patel added to fears yesterday, confirming more areas will be plunged into the toughest tier if Covid outbreaks aren’t kept under control and refusing to rule out a national shutdown. 

She told Sky News: ‘If the virus continues to spread then we will take stronger measures because at the end of the day our objective is to save lives and to keep people safe.’

Department of Health data shows daily Covid infections have doubled week-on-week because of rapidly growing clusters across London, the South East and East. No10’s top scientific advisers blame the spread on a mutated form thought to be up to 70 per cent more infectious.

Deaths have also started to soar in line with the spike in cases in the three badly-hit regions, which were forced into draconian Tier Four restrictions in a last-ditch attempt to strangle their outbreaks. Officials recorded another 691 victims today, the highest daily toll since November 25 and up on the 506 recorded last Tuesday.

But fatalities – which lag behind infections because it can take infected patients several weeks to succumb to the illness – are expected to continue to spike in the coming weeks as a result of the rising number of cases, before tailing off as a result of the Tier Four curbs.  

Health chiefs in Cumbria have said the new variant is in the county and could be behind some sharp increases in new cases.

Director of public health for Cumbria, Colin Cox, said in the district of Eden rates had risen to 345 cases per 100,000 people, the highest seen in Cumbria to date, and Lancashire’s director of public health Sakthi Karunanithi said there was a ‘high likelihood’ the new variant was in the county.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said there was no evidence the strain has reached the area but what public health directors ‘want to emphasise is it is safe for people to assume that it is already here or it is about to arrive’.

On Monday, Brighton’s council leader Phelim Mac Cafferty said the number of cases in the city had ‘more than doubled in one week’.

It comes as one of the Government’s scientific advisers warned Britain faces a ‘human disaster’ unless ministers impose ‘stricter’ rules across the country, fuelling fears of a full New Year lockdown in England.

Meanwhile, Cambridge University experts behind a string of dire coronavirus projections warned that England was on track for 900 deaths a day before the Tier Four restrictions – which cancelled Christmas for 16million people – were imposed. 

The academics, who were behind the same gloomy warning of 4,000 daily deaths that spooked Number 10 into England’s November shutdown, estimated the nation was hurtling towards fatality tolls seen during the darkest days of the first wave in April.

But the team admit the stark claim was made without accounting for Downing St’s decision to plunge a quarter of the country into the toughest virus-controlling curbs, meaning their dramatic estimate – which gets revised every fortnight – is likely to be drastically toned down when the effects of the restrictions kick in.

England was last night put on notice for a New Year lockdown after the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned it was likely whack-a-mole measures would ‘need to be increased’ outside of London and the South East because the mutated variant of Covid was already ‘everywhere’.   

The spread of the new Covid-19 strain could result in parts of the south-west, Midlands and the North being moved into Tier 4 as early as Boxing Day, health sources said today

The spread of the new Covid-19 strain could result in parts of the south-west, Midlands and the North being moved into Tier 4 as early as Boxing Day, health sources said today

Burnley's infection rate currently sits at 438 per 100,000 people, with Lincoln and Boston both over 400. By contrast, Gosport, which is under Tier 4 measures, has 159 cases per 100,000.

Burnley’s infection rate currently sits at 438 per 100,000 people, with Lincoln and Boston both over 400. By contrast, Gosport, which is under Tier 4 measures, has 159 cases per 100,000.

Police continue to arrest people in breach of Tier 4 restrictions which came into force on Sunday - but measures could be extended to other parts of the country as early as Boxing Day

Police continue to arrest people in breach of Tier 4 restrictions which came into force on Sunday – but measures could be extended to other parts of the country as early as Boxing Day

And it comes as Cambridge University scientists have warned that England faced up to 900 daily Covid deaths by New Year's Day without the introduction of Tier Four restrictions

The academics, who were behind the same gloomy warning of 4,000 fatalities a day that spooked ministers into imposing England's November shutdown, estimate daily cases across the nation have risen 55 per cent to 91,000 because of spiralling outbreaks in London and the South East

Cambridge University scientists have warned that England faced up to 900 daily Covid deaths by New Year’s Day without the introduction of Tier Four restrictions (left). The academics, who were behind the same gloomy warning of 4,000 fatalities a day that spooked ministers into imposing England’s November shutdown, estimate daily cases across the nation have risen 55 per cent to 91,000 because of spiralling outbreaks in London and the South East (right). The red dots on the graph on the left are actual deaths, while the red vertical line is December 19 – when Tier Four restrictions came into place. The blue vertical lines represent March 23 – when the first national lockdown was enforced – and May 11, when some curbs were eased

Separate data today revealed Covid deaths fell by 3 per cent in England and Wales in the first week after England's national lockdown

Separate data today revealed Covid deaths fell by 3 per cent in England and Wales in the first week after England’s national lockdown 

 

Lorry drivers WILL be able to travel to France from this morning if they provide a negative Covid result 

Lorry drivers stuck in Kent, unable to move in a coronavirus border row, finally have the green light to travel to France from this morning – but will have to provide a negative Covid test before crossing the Channel.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps took to social media tonight to confirm that a deal had been struck, which also means planes, boats and the Eurostar will all resume their service after 48 hours of chaos.

The two nations had previously been at loggerheads over which type of test would be required to allow trucks back on the road, with the travel ban imposed in response to fears about the spread of the more infectious coronavirus strain, which is spreading rapidly in the UK.

French President Emmanuel Macron demanded the gold-standard PCR tests are used, which are more expensive, lab-based tests that can take up to 72 hours to process. 

The UK, on the other hand, had wanted to use the faster lateral flow tests which can provide results within an hour – even though these are considered less effective unless administered by a nurse and were even dubbed effectively useless earlier today. 

In a statement tonight, the French foreign affairs ministry said that from midnight there would be a ‘limited resumption of the movement of people from the United Kingdom to France subject to negative health tests sensitive to the variant’.

It added that a negative test result, taken less than 72 hours before the journey, is required and this can be either a PCR or lateral flow test sensitive to the new variant 

It comes after the EU urged European countries to drop all travel bans imposed on the UK, including on the movement of freight.

The European Commission published guidance at lunchtime recommending all non-essential travel to and from the UK should be ‘discouraged’ because of the risk posed by a new mutant strain of coronavirus which spreads quicker than its predecessor.

But it added: ‘Flight and train bans should be discontinued given the need to ensure essential travel and avoid supply chain disruptions.’

SAGE experts have repeated their calls for tougher action, with behavioural psychologist Professor Robert West warning the Government’s current curbs were unlikely to contain the spread of Covid. 

He argued the UK needed to bolster social distancing rules and build a test, travel, isolate and support programme similar to ones used in East Asia.

And The Mail understands that Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty has warned the Prime Minister that the number of patients in hospital with coronavirus is on course to match the April peak by New Year’s Eve – and will continue increasing in January.

Downing Street yesterday tried to play down suggestions that a third national lockdown was imminent, but Sir Patrick said the new strain, which is thought to spread up to 70 per cent more easily, was already present ‘around the country’. 

It comes as official data shows the mutated coronavirus strain has rapidly spread through swathes of England in a fortnight and now accounts for the majority of infections in some regions.

The Office for National Statistics estimates 62 per cent of cases in London were because of the new variant in the week up to December 9, the most recent snapshot provided by the Government agency. That was almost double the amount of infections in the capital attributed to the mutation in the seven-day period to November 25 (35 per cent).

It’s believed the new variant — thought to be up to 70 per cent more infectious than regular Covid — emerged in a patient in Kent and made its way into London and the commuter belt. 

Parents’ fury as schools ‘could stay shut for ALL of January’ 

Parents are ‘dreading’ the prospect hinted at by Home Secretary Priti Patel of schools being shut throughout January as Britain grapples with the new strain of coronavirus.

Ordinarily after the Christmas break, children would return to schools in the first week of January but this date was recently pushed back to January 11.

But when asked about when classrooms would re-open in the New Year, Ms Patel only said that pupils would ‘eventually’ return as she pinned hopes on the mass testing regime being rolled out in schools.

This is despite scientists’ concerns that the lateral flow tests being used as part of Number 10’s Operation Moonshot – which officials hope will help unlock swathes of Britain from draconian restrictions – are too inaccurate and could lead to children and staff spreading the virus despite being told they are clear.

Trials of on-the-spot lateral flow tests in Liverpool found they miss half of infected people and a study on University of Birmingham students predicted the self-administered swabs detected just three per cent of cases.

It comes after Government source said on Monday that some schools could end up staying closed until February amid fears that children are more likely to catch the new mutant strain of coronavirus.

Furious parents took to Mumsnet on Monday and Tuesday to air their concerns, with several saying they were ‘dreading’ the prospect of a delay to schools opening.

Another described how the first lockdown in March, which saw schools closed nationwide, ‘nearly broke me’. They added that the ‘guilt’ they felt at seeing their child ‘in front of a screen for 10 hours a day’ was ‘unendurable’.

Britain’s largest teaching union had earlier demanded classes be moved online for two weeks after Christmas to give school staff the chance to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

But former headteacher Chris McGovern, of the Campaign for Real Education, said the school closures were ‘disastrous and catastrophic’ for the nation’s poorest children and that teaching unions were ‘playing a political game’.

How the mutated form of Covid has rapidly spread across swathes of England over the last fortnight 

The mutated coronavirus strain has rapidly spread through swathes of England in a fortnight, according to official data that shows it now accounts for the majority of infections in some regions.

The Office for National Statistics estimates 62 per cent of cases in London were because of the new variant in the week up to December 9, the most recent snapshot provided by the Government agency. That was almost double the amount of infections in the capital attributed to the mutation in the seven-day period to November 25 (35 per cent).

It’s believed the new variant — thought to be up to 70 per cent more infectious than regular Covid — emerged in a patient in Kent and made its way into London and the commuter belt.

In the East of England, the strain is estimated to have made up 59 per cent of infections in the week to December 9, soaring from 31 per cent the two weeks prior. The ONS said 43 per cent of cases in the South East in the most recent week were cause by the variant, up slightly from the 39 per cent on November 25. 

Smaller rises were seen elsewhere in the country. In the Midlands the figure jumped from 19 to 27 per cent, in the South West the figure rose from 27 to 28 per cent and for the North West it went from 12 to 17 per cent.

The North East and Yorkshire actually saw declines in cases of the super-charged strain, with the percentage of cases falling from 18 to 15 per cent and seven to five per cent, respectively. 

The data comes from the ONS’ Infection Survey, which has been monitoring Britain’s crisis by sending tens of thousands of swabs to random households across the country, regardless of whether people have symptoms.

As the new strain becomes more widespread and triggers a third wave of infections, there are fears that hospitals could become overwhelmed and deaths could approach the devastating levels seen in spring.

But scientists have assured the public there is no evidence to suggest it is more lethal than regular Covid and have even suggested it could be less dangerous. From an evolutionary standpoint, viruses can transmit more easily if they cause mild or asymptomatic illness because it means carriers continue to go about their daily lives, thereby spreading the contagion more extensively.

In the East of England, the strain is estimated to have made up 59 per cent of infections in the week to December 9, soaring from 31 per cent the two weeks prior. 

The ONS said 43 per cent of cases in the South East in the most recent week were cause by the variant, up slightly from the 39 per cent on November 25. 

Smaller rises were seen elsewhere in the country. In the Midlands the figure jumped from 19 to 27 per cent, in the South West the figure rose from 27 to 28 per cent and for the North West it went from 12 to 17 per cent.

The North East and Yorkshire actually saw declines in cases of the super-charged strain, with the percentage of cases falling from 18 to 15 per cent and seven to five per cent, respectively. 

The data comes from the ONS’ Infection Survey, which has been monitoring Britain’s crisis by sending tens of thousands of swabs to random households across the country, regardless of whether people have symptoms.

As the new strain becomes more widespread and triggers a third wave of infections, there are fears that hospitals could become overwhelmed and deaths could approach the devastating levels seen in spring.

But scientists have assured the public there is no evidence to suggest it is more lethal than regular Covid and have even suggested it could be less dangerous.

From an evolutionary standpoint, viruses can transmit more easily if they cause mild or asymptomatic illness because it means carriers continue to go about their daily lives, thereby spreading the contagion more extensively.

Separate data today revealed Covid deaths fell by 3 per cent in England and Wales in the first week after England’s national lockdown. 

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows there were 2,756 coronavirus fatalities in the seven-day spell that ended December 11, with Covid being the underlying cause of death for nearly 85 per cent of victims. 

It was the second week in a row that coronavirus deaths dropped, proving that the draconian restrictions did cut the spread of the virus and save hundreds of lives. 

For comparison, 2,835 fatalities were registered over the last week of lockdown, down from a five-month high of 3,040 the week before.

But the figures don’t prove that England’s return to a whack-a-mole tiered strategy has worked to keep the illness under control long-term because it can take infected patients several weeks to succumb to the disease. 

It means the effects of the revamped three-tier system won’t be evident in ONS figures for another fortnight. 

But swathes of data showed the original tiered restrictions – which Number 10’s top scientists feared wouldn’t be enough to keep the winter crisis at bay – tackled the virus, slashing the number of new infections and thwarting pressure on hospitals in the North West. 

It comes as France eased its travel ban on freight in Britain tonight – permitting drivers can provide a negative Covid test.

Lorry drivers stuck in Kent, unable to move in a coronavirus border row, finally have the green light to travel to France from this morning. 

The two nations had previously been at loggerheads over which type of test would be required to allow trucks back on the road, with the travel ban imposed in response to fears about the spread of the more infectious coronavirus strain, which is spreading rapidly in the UK. 

In a statement tonight, the French foreign affairs ministry said that from midnight there would be a ‘limited resumption of the movement of people from the United Kingdom to France subject to negative health tests sensitive to the variant’. 

It added that a negative test result, taken less than 72 hours before the journey, is required and this can be either a PCR or lateral flow test sensitive to the new variant.

Those who can make journeys include French and EU residents, British or third-party nationals who normally live in France or the EU, as well as some other groups.  

The deal marks a significant breakthrough after a long period of deadlock, with Brussels having called for an end to the border blockade which has seen 4,000 more lorries park up in Kent.

It came after the EU urged European countries to drop all travel bans imposed on the UK, including on the movement of freight.

The European Commission published guidance at lunchtime on Tuesday, recommending all non-essential travel to and from the UK should be ‘discouraged’ because of the risk posed by a new mutant strain of coronavirus which spreads quicker than its predecessor.

But it added: ‘Flight and train bans should be discontinued given the need to ensure essential travel and avoid supply chain disruptions.’ 

Meanwhile, parents are ‘dreading’ the prospect hinted at by Home Secretary Priti Patel of schools being shut throughout January as Britain grapples with the new strain of coronavirus.

Ordinarily after the Christmas break, children would return to schools in the first week of January but this date was recently pushed back to January 11.

But when asked about when classrooms would re-open in the New Year, Ms Patel only said that pupils would ‘eventually’ return as she pinned hopes on the mass testing regime being rolled out in schools.

This is despite scientists’ concerns that the lateral flow tests being used as part of Number 10’s Operation Moonshot – which officials hope will help unlock swathes of Britain from draconian restrictions – are too inaccurate and could lead to children and staff spreading the virus despite being told they are clear.

Trials of on-the-spot lateral flow tests in Liverpool found they miss half of infected people and a study on University of Birmingham students predicted the self-administered swabs detected just three per cent of cases.

It comes after Government source said on Monday that some schools could end up staying closed until February amid fears that children are more likely to catch the new mutant strain of coronavirus.

Furious parents took to Mumsnet on Monday and Tuesday to air their concerns, with several saying they were ‘dreading’ the prospect of a delay to schools opening.

Another described how the first lockdown in March, which saw schools closed nationwide, ‘nearly broke me’. They added that the ‘guilt’ they felt at seeing their child ‘in front of a screen for 10 hours a day’ was ‘unendurable’.

Britain’s largest teaching union had earlier demanded classes be moved online for two weeks after Christmas to give school staff the chance to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

But former headteacher Chris McGovern, of the Campaign for Real Education, said the school closures were ‘disastrous and catastrophic’ for the nation’s poorest children and that teaching unions were ‘playing a political game’. 

 

QUESTIONS ANSWERED ON NEW COVID MUTATION: HOW DID IT HAPPEN, IS IT MORE DANGEROUS AND HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN IN THE UK?

By David Churchill

What has happened to the coronavirus to trigger such concern?

A new strain of Covid has developed which is said to spread far faster. A ‘strain’ is a new version of a virus which has genetic mutations. The new strain is a version of Sars-Cov-2, the coronavirus which causes the disease Covid-19.

It has been named VUI-202012/01. These letters and numbers stand for ‘variant under investigation’ and the month, December 2020.

What makes it so worrying?

This particular variant is defined by up to 17 changes or mutations in the coronavirus spike protein. It is the combination of some of these changes which scientists believe could make it more infectious.

It is thought they could help the virus’ spike protein latch on to human cells and gain entry more easily.

Is it certain the new variation is accelerating the spread of the virus?

No, but scientists say preliminary evidence suggests it does.

Boris Johnson said it may spread up to 70 per cent more easily than other strains of the virus, potentially driving up the ‘R rate’ – which measures how quickly the virus spreads – significantly.

On Saturday night, Mr Johnson said it could drive up the ‘R rate’ by as much as 0.4.

This would be particularly significant in areas such as Eastern England, where it is 1.4, and both London and the South East, where it is 1.3. The ‘R rate’ must remain below 1 for infections to decrease.

Is the new variant more dangerous?

Scientists don’t think so for now. When asked on Saturday night if it was more lethal than the previous strain, Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said ‘the answer seems to be ‘No’, as far as we can tell at the moment’.

Yesterday Dr Susan Hopkins, of Public Health England, said there was evidence of people with the new variant having higher viral loads inside them.

But she said this did not mean people would get more ill.

Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘It’s unlikely it’ll make people sicker, but it could make it harder to control.’

If it does make the virus harder to control and hospitals become overrun, it could pose new challenges.

Are mutations unusual?

No. Seasonal influenza mutates every year. Variants of Sars-Cov-2 have also been observed in other countries, such as Spain.

However, one scientific paper suggests the number and combination of changes which have occurred in this new variant is potentially ‘unprecedented’.

Most mutations observed to date are thought to have happened more slowly. Also, most changes have no effect on how easily the virus spreads.

There are already about 4,000 mutations in the spike protein gene.

What has caused the mutation?

This is still being investigated. One theory is that growing natural immunity in the UK population, which makes it harder for the virus to spread, might have forced it to adapt.

Another theory is that it has developed in chronically ill patients who have fought the virus off over a long period of time, with it then being passed onto others.

Prof Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine at the University of East Anglia, yesterday said it was ‘plausible’ and ‘highly likely’ this has happened.

However, he stressed it is impossible to prove at the moment.

What evidence is there to support the latter theory?

Some evidence supporting it was spotted when samples of virus were collected from a Cambridge patient. They had been treated with convalescent plasma – blood plasma containing antibodies from a recovered patient.

It is possible the virus mutated during that treatment, developing more resistance to the antibodies. This patient died of the infection, but it’s also possible the mutation has occurred elsewhere.

A paper co-authored by Andrew Rambaut, Professor of Molecular Evolution at the University of Edinburgh, states: ‘If antibody therapy is administered after many weeks of chronic infection, the virus population may be unusually large and genetically diverse…creating suitable circumstances for the rapid fixation of multiple virus genetic changes.’

Professor Hunter added: ‘Mutation in viruses are a random event and the longer someone is infected the more likely a random event is to occur.’

What do these mutations do?

Many occur in what’s called the ‘receptor binding domain’ of the virus’ spike protein. This helps the virus latch on to human cells and gain entry. The mutations make it easier for the virus to bind to human cells’ ACE2 receptors.

It is also possible the changes help the virus avoid human antibodies which would otherwise help fight off infection.

Who detected it?

It was discovered by the Covid-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium, which carries out random genetic sequencing of positive covid-19 samples.

It is a consortium of the UK’s four public health agencies, Wellcome Sanger Institute and 12 academic institutions.

How long has it been in the UK and where did it start?

As of mid-December, there were more than 1,000 cases in nearly 60 different local authorities, although the true number will be higher.

They have predominantly been found in the south east of England, in Kent and London. It may now account for 60 per cent of the capital’s cases.

But it has been detected elsewhere, including in Wales and Scotland.

The two earliest samples were collected on September 20 in Kent and another the next day in London.

Why was action to tackle it not taken sooner?

Because the potentially greater transmissibility was only discovered late last week by academics.

Has it been detected anywhere else in the world?

One aspect of the new variant, known as a N501Y mutation, was circulating in Australia between June and July, in America in July and in Brazil as far back as April, according to scientists.

It is therefore unclear what role, if any, travellers carrying the virus may have had.

Dr Julian Tang, a Virologist and expert in Respiratory science at the University of Leicester, said: ‘Whether or not these viruses were brought to the UK and Europe later by travellers or arose spontaneously in multiple locations around the world – in response to human host immune selection pressures – requires further investigation.’

Another change, known as the D614G variant, has previously been detected in western Europe and North America. But it is possible that the new variant evolved in the UK.

What can I do to avoid getting the new variant?

The same as always – keeping your distance from people, washing your hands regularly, wearing a mask and abiding by the tier restrictions in your area.

Yesterday Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association, said: ‘The way in which you control the spread of the virus, including this new variant, is exactly the same. It is about continuing stringent measures. The same rules apply.’

Will the new variant reduce the effectiveness of vaccines?

More studies are needed.

Dr Susan Hopkins, of Public Health England, said that until these are carried out scientists cannot be certain whether – and by how much – the new variant reduces the effectiveness of developed vaccines.

She said: ‘The vaccine induces a strong, multiple response, immune response and therefore it is unlikely that this vaccine response is going to be completely gone.’ When mutations happen it is, in theory, possible the antibodies generated by vaccines can be evaded.

But vaccines produce a wide range of antibodies that simultaneously attack the virus from different angles, making it hard for it to evade all of them at once.

Vaccines could also be tweaked to make them more effective if the new mutation does prove to be more resistant to them.

So what are the scientists doing now?

Scientists will be growing the new strain in the lab to see how it responds. This includes looking at whether it produces the same antibody response, how it reacts to the vaccine, and modelling the new strain.

It could take up to two weeks for this process to be complete.  

Chaos in Kent: 10,000 trapped lorry drivers clash with police, break OUT of airfield encampment, block roads and demand to be let across Channel after government admits it will take DAYS to administer 30-minute Covid tests to get them home

Anarchy was spreading across Kent today as fights broke out between lorry drivers and police at the Port of Dover and Manston Airport – and testing staff arrived in an attempt to get them across the Channel for Christmas. 

Dozens of truckers trying to reach their homes on the Continent tried to force their way past officers guarding the port today. Hundreds left their cabs and walked along the A20 to the port entrance in Kent at 8am 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 Covid-19 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 18 miles away at Manston Airport, where truckers whose lorries are being held staged a protest, broke down fences and blocked roads. The Army and NHS staff are working together 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. Two more test sites were today being set up at at the Dreamland amusement park in Margate and at the entrance to the Port of Dover, but the junction was blocked by vans and cars with some even parked in the wrong direction.

More than 5,000 lorries were held in traffic management operations across Kent, with two main flashpoints at:

  • Dover, where the roads have been blocked by drivers, no one can get into the port and a test centre was being set up amid clashes between truckers, with some showing police fake tests in attempt to get through; and;
  • Manston Airport, where mass testing is now taking place with drivers getting the results of a lateral flow test in as little as 20 minutes, but it is jammed with drivers trying to get a test amid a protest that has blocked off roads.

Any new lorries arriving at Manston, a disused former military airfield, are now being directed to Operation Brock on the M20, where 610 vehicles currently there. A further 632 were on 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 around 4,000 lorries waiting to cross the Channel. He 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 last night with France after a ban on UK arrivals was imposed by President Emmanuel 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’. 

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 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 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

Truckers clash with police in Manston, where they have blockaded the A299 in Kent this morning in a mass protest

Truckers remove traffic cones before clashing with police outside Manston Airport in Kent this morning

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

Hundreds of angry truckers have blockaded the A299 at Manston Airport in Kent this morning in a mass protest

Angry truckers speak to police amid chaotic scenes at the A299 at Manston Airport in Kent this morning

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

Lorry drivers carry out a mass protest at the A299 at Manston Airport in Kent this morning as the chaos continues

Hundreds of angry truckers have blockaded the A299 at Manston Airport in Kent this morning in a mass protest

Hundreds of angry truckers have blockaded the A299 at Manston Airport in Kent this morning in a mass protest

Lines of freight lorries and heavy goods vehicles parked on the tarmac at Manston Airport near Ramsgate yesterday

Lines of freight lorries and heavy goods vehicles parked on the tarmac at Manston Airport near Ramsgate yesterday

Those who come back negative will be told by text message in as little as 20 minutes, and be given the green light to travel, but positive cases will get a PCR test – and if they are still positive, sent to a Covid-secure hotel to isolate.

Mr Macron had wanted lab-processed PCR tests which can take up to 72 hours before results are received. But he caved in after a third night of talks following pressure from fellow European leaders who urged a compromise.

A Whitehall source said: ‘Many of these are European lorries – there are a lot from Poland, for example – and [EU] member states have been telling France they want to get their drivers home. In the end, Macron folded.’

PCR vs lateral flow Covid tests: Chaos as UK and France clash over type of testing used for truckers

The French government had previously demanded that any travellers from the UK, including truckers, take PCR tests before arriving in the country, which can take up to three days to return a result. The UK, meanwhile, insisted on quicker lateral flow tests. A statement tonight confirmed either a PCR or lateral flow test sensitive to the new variant will suffice, though the EU recommends rapid tests should be used to avoid disruption to cargo flows.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PCR TEST AND A LATERAL FLOW? 

A PCR test can cost upwards of £180 per person, with the swab needing to be processed in a lab. 

The UK, on the other hand, favours faster tests which are not lab based and give a result within 15 minutes.

These rapid coronavirus tests, known as lateral flow tests, are ones that can be done on the spot using portable equipment.

They are faster and cheaper than lab-based PCR tests, which the government uses to diagnose people, but are less accurate. 

LATERAL FLOW TESTS ARE RAPID – BUT CAN SACRIFICE ACCURACY

In a lateral flow test a swab is used to get a sample from the person’s nose or throat and it is then processed in a small machine that tries to detect the coronavirus by mixing the sample with something the virus would react with.

If there is a reaction in the mixture it suggests that the person is carrying coronavirus. If not, they get a negative result. This process can be completed in as little as 15 minutes.

You take your own swab though a professional on site processes it through the machine.  

However, as the swabs are often taken by people themselves, the accuracy of the test could be hampered as they may not push the swab deep enough to get enough of a sample. 

Results from trials have varied wildly and show the tests perform better when the swabs are done by trained medics and worse when people do them themselves. 

PCR TESTS CAN TAKE SEVERAL DAYS TO GET RESULTS – BUT ARE MORE ACCURATE 

These lateral flow tests differ from the gold standard PCR test – known scientifically as polymerase chain reaction testing. 

PCR tests also use a swab but this is then processed using high-tech laboratory equipment to analyse the genetic sequence of the sample to see if any of it matches the genes of coronavirus.

This is a much more long-winded and expensive process, involving multiple types of trained staff, and the analysis process can take hours, with the whole process from swab to someone receiving their result taking days.

It is significantly more accurate, however. In ideal conditions the tests are almost 100 per cent accurate at spotting the virus, although this may be more like 70 per cent in the real world.

This compares to a much lower sensitivity in lateral flow tests, with a trial of one type used in Liverpool suggesting they miss around 50 per cent of the people who would test positive with PCR.

SO, WHAT IS THE BENEFIT OF LATERAL FLOW TESTING? 

Extreme accuracy may be a drawback for PCR now that so many people have been infected, however, with the tests able to detect shreds of the virus in people who recovered weeks ago and are no longer infectious, which may lead them to have to self-isolate unnecessarily.

Lateral flow tests are more likely to miss people who are carrying the virus but, experts say, do have value as a way of weeding out people carrying large amounts of the virus and therefore most likely to be spreading the disease.

The Smart Clinic, in London, charges clients £195 for a PCR test with independent lab testing. Pall Mall medical charges £129 for the same test.

The French Embassy in London has issued a list of dozens of antigen tests which are authorised for entry to France here.

They include tests manufactured by the likes of ‘WuHan UNscience Biotechnology’, ‘Guanzhou WONDFO Biotech’ and ‘Anhui Deepblue Medical Technology’.

Until January 6, only lorry drivers and French and EU citizens or residents who have an essential reason to travel and who show a negative test result less than 72 hours old will be allowed into France.

A testing site has been set up at Manston Airfield, but it is unclear how the thousands of drivers who parked up in the town causing five-mile tailbacks and traffic gridlock are going to reach it. Another testing point was being set up today three miles away at the Dreamland amusement park in Margate to help increase capacity.

Furthermore, a third mobile testing centre was being set up on the roundabout at the entrance to the Port of Dover, but the junction was blocked by multiple vans and cars with some even parked in the wrong direction.

This has meant not a single lorry was able to enter the port this morning despite the border technically being open. Shortly before 11.30am, a police officer shouted: ‘We need everybody to move and clear the roundabout because a mobile Covid test centre is coming here.’

One angry Polish driver stuck at Dover today told MailOnline: ‘We are sick of this – I’ve been in Dover for two days and want to go home for Christmas. The French said their border was being opened but we haven’t seen any evidence of this being true. There’s thousands of people queuing to get through the port and the roads are all at a standstill. Nobody wants another night sleeping in their cab.’

However a police officer at the scene said: ‘I understand why they are angry but they are directing their anger towards us when it’s the French authorities making the rules. They are insisting that only people who have tested negative for Covid-19 can come through. A lot of these drivers are waving fake test sheets.’ 

There are also concerns over shortages of fresh goods amid the backlog. British Retail Consortium director of food Andrew Opie said: ‘It is good news for consumers as the French borders have now reopened, however it is essential that lorries get moving across the border as quickly as possible. Until the backlog is cleared and supply chains return to normal, we anticipate issues with the availability of some fresh goods.’ 

Staff wearing fluorescent jackets bearing the NHS Test and Trace logo arrived in Dover last night ahead of the testing rollout, having made a 230-mile journey from Doncaster in South Yorkshire. 

As many as 6,000 tests a day could be carried out in a bid to help clear the huge backlog, with 150 soldiers also set to be drafted in to help. It comes as:

Today, passengers from the UK disembarked from ferries in the port of Calais following Britain and France’s deal easing the travel ban imposed over the discovery of the new Covid-19 variant. 

Much of Europe swiftly banned entry by British travellers and UK freight after a more transmissible strain of the coronavirus was found in Britain.

The ‘Cotes des Flandres’ ferry – the first ship to leave Dover after the restrictions were lifted – arrived at around 3.30am local time (2.30am UK time), followed shortly afterwards by P&O’s ‘Spirit of France’. 

A handful of passenger vehicles disembarked from the two ships but traffic was not expected to pick up until late this morning according to port officials.

At Manston, two Romanian lorry drivers told today how they were among the first to be tested. The pair, named only as Marian and Bacy, were tested at the airfield 1 miles from Dover in the early hours of this morning.

They were given a lateral flow test which is supposed to detect the new strain of Covid-19 and has results in half an hour. But they said they had not yet been alerted as to whether they tested positive or negative.

Marian said: ‘We are still waiting so we don’t know the results yet. We drove to Dover yesterday but when we found out the testing centre was going to be at Manston we headed there. We got in about 1am and waited a few hours and were tested early this morning. 

‘It was quite chaotic, there was some confusion over what forms we needed and which QR code to scan. We drove back to Dover afterwards but the whole place is shutdown and nobody is going anywhere.’

Emil Herkt, 26, from Tczew in Poland had delivered a consignment of metal to a warehouse in London on Sunday and been stranded in Britain ever since. He said: ‘It’s a farcical situation – nobody is telling us anything. 

‘We have to apparently be tested for Covid but none of us know where to go. There is a testing site at Manston but that’s full already. Plus it’s nearly 20 miles away and the roads in and out of Dover are paralysed with traffic.

‘So how do we get there anyway? Why haven’t the authorities set up testing here by the port where everyone is? It’s ridiculous as people are battling to get back to their homes for Christmas. 

‘The French are being very awkward and I mainly blame them but the British authorities haven’t handled this situation very well either.’

Ovidiu Badoiu, 47, a Romanian lorry driver who drove to Britain at the weekend to deliver a stock of fans to a factory in Telford, Shropshire, has been stuck in Dover since Monday. 

He said: ‘It’s really difficult, I picked up my load in Romania and took it to the destination in the Midlands on Sunday and came down to Dover the following day where I’ve spent the last two nights sleeping in my lorry.

Chaos at Manston Airport in Kent this morning where the Covid testing station has been set up for the truckers

Chaos at Manston Airport in Kent this morning where the Covid testing station has been set up for the truckers

Drivers at Manston today are now being refused entry as the site is full and they are being told to go back on to the M20

Drivers at Manston today are now being refused entry as the site is full and they are being told to go back on to the M20

A man is detained by police at Manston Airport in Kent this morning where they have gone for Covid testing

A man is detained by police at Manston Airport in Kent this morning where they have gone for Covid testing

Police manhandle a lorry driver at Manston Airport in Kent this morning amid chaotic scenes across the county

Police manhandle a lorry driver at Manston Airport in Kent this morning amid chaotic scenes across the county

A lorry driver moves a traffic cone as truckers clash with police outside Manston Airfield in Kent this morning

A lorry driver moves a traffic cone as truckers clash with police outside Manston Airfield in Kent this morning

Drivers clash with police outside Manston Airfield this morning, as they are refused entry for Covid testing

Drivers clash with police outside Manston Airfield this morning, as they are refused entry for Covid testing

A lorry driver walks around with a traffic cone at Manston Airport in Kent today where the testing site has been set up

A lorry driver walks around with a traffic cone at Manston Airport in Kent today where the testing site has been set up

Virus variant means ‘Operation Moonshot’ rapid tests are now the key to breaking Dover deadlock – but they may be effectively useless when self-administered

The Road Haulage Association has confirmed the Army are working with NHS staff at Manston Airport in providing tests to hauliers to be self-administered in their cabs under supervision.

The result will be communicated to the driver via text message or email, identifying them via their number plate.

But Number 10’s ambitious Operation Moonshot has come under fire from top scientists amid fears the rapid coronavirus tests being rolled out across the UK aren’t good enough as ministers shelved plans to open up mass testing centres over Christmas.

Moonshot has been slated as way to use the rapid kits – which cost a fraction of the price of gold-standard PCR tests – to test millions of people and help them get back onto flights abroad, into stadiums and venues, and to keep children in classrooms.

Lateral flow swabs give results in minutes but miss around half of infections, by the Department of Health’s own admission. 

But damning evidence shows they may be effectively useless when self-administered, despite Downing Street’s current testing scheme relying on people taking their own swabs.

French President Emmanuel Macron has even specifically called for lorry drivers travelling across the Channel from Britain to be tested using higher-quality PCR as the nations continue to clash over the roadblock in Kent.

If rapid tests miss huge proportions of cases they will trigger outbreaks caused by people who think they’ve got the all-clear but are actually infected, experts fear.

The tests are more accurate when swabs are carried out by trained professionals because they have to be pushed deep inside the nose or throat. But scientists fear Britain simply doesn’t have the money or enough spare medics to do this nationwide every day, with health chiefs instead accepting DIY swabs to save time.

Government departments have forked out hundreds of millions of pounds on different types of the lateral flow tests for use on the public and in hospitals, and they’re being trialled by councils across the country to try and weed out silent infections.

But concerns about their accuracy have reportedly led to plans to open mass testing centres over Christmas being shelved, with public health directors raising fears that led to the programme being scaled back, The Guardian reported.

Firms making the three tests approved by the Department of Health claim they are between 95 and 99 per cent accurate at detecting cases in lab conditions, but early real-word trials suggest tests don’t live up to manufacturers’ accuracy claims. However, some companies insist their tests are for ‘medical professional use only’, meaning the Government is not using them in the right way.

Scientists warn they give a false sense of security because no test is good enough to rule out an infection in someone who doesn’t have symptoms, and they don’t prevent them picking up the virus on their way home from the test.

It comes as the UK’s medical devices regulator has approved lateral flow test for home use but said they must not be used to allow people to change their behaviour if they get a negative result.

‘There are no toilets here, nowhere to get washed. I live in Valencia in Spain and just want to get back to my wife in time for Christmas. I think the French are being over the top about this, why are they not letting the lorries through? Hardly any of us are stopping in France, just travelling through it on to other destinations.’ 

British trucker Eric Johnson, 50, was waiting to collect his empty trailer from the Port of Dover before he can return home to Wolverhampton.

He spent two nights at the Motis truck stop off the A20 in Dover with colleagues Dave King, 48, and Dean Hammond, 31. The trio had been delivering a cargo of Caterpillar heavy machinery parts to Lokeren, Belgium. 

While Mr King and Mr Hammond managed to retrieve their empty containers yesterday evening, Mr Johnson’s was delayed. He left at 6am today after having a shower and shave to go home for Christmas.

But he moved less than half a mile in four hours on the A20 approaching the Port and has no clue when he will be able to get out. Mr Johnson said: ‘Honestly right now I just feel so depressed. I keep forgetting what day it is.

‘It’s Wednesday right? I’ve done two nights in the cabin and 50 hours in Dover but as soon as I can return home, I get stuck in this. It’s just not moving and apparently has been like this since 1am when the border reopened.

‘Luckily I’ve got enough food and water stored up but now the issue is I don’t have a toilet. I can’t just leave my truck here. I’ve seen people trying the doors of vacant vehicles. ‘

Multiple drivers loudly sounded their horns in protest at the delays which set off a chain reaction of beeps heard for miles. Tempers had flared earlier that morning as patience thinned, according to Mr Johnson.

He added: ‘I don’t reckon many people here queueing have actually been tested. Apparently some drivers were ramming down metal barriers at Manston. And some here were barging the cones at the Port entrance while pushing police.

‘I’m scratching my head as to how this has happened and how they can solve this. There’s an empty carriageway next to us so why can’t they clear the fast lane on to there to let people into the port and keep traffic moving?

‘I just want to get home now but I think I might end up calling it a night at Ashford Truck Stop.’

Roads into Dover were gridlocked today, causing traffic chaos with hundreds of vehicles parked up waiting to be allowed down to the ferry terminal. Residential streets as far as three miles away from the port were at a standstill.

Locals bared the brunt of the traffic backlog with some seen deciding to pull a U-turn and retreat home. Vehicles were held on the A2 Jubilee Way with queues building up for five miles back to the Honeywood industrial estate.

The traffic at the Whitfield Roundabout continued back on to the A256 – the main road HGV drivers who have had their Covid-19 test at Manston Airport near Ramsgate will use to return to the Port of Dover.

And Raluca Marian, general delegate to the European Union of the International Road Transport Union, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We are definitely in a better place than yesterday. At least the border is now open. 

‘But the testing is a big issue. We have now several thousand drivers already at Manston Airport and in the Kent area, but we estimate around 10,000 and there are still around 7,000 to arrive there. 

‘We are happy that finally we have a deal, that the borders are open. At the same time this testing is a big challenge for us and we don’t think it will work. The backlog can’t be cleared if you get 30 minutes per driver, even with these quick tests, that’s going to be absolutely a disaster.

‘In spring, we had the famous temperature checks at the Austrian border in the first wave of the corona. It was much less than 30 minutes, round about five to ten minutes, and we had 60km (37 miles) of queues just because of these temperature checks.

‘Now that was a constant flow, so we didn’t have the backlog. Now we have 10,000 trucks piled up. So, New Year’s Eve, after New Year’s Eve, difficult to calculate.

‘We know that the European Commission is supporting and that pressure is being put on France to accept a better solution for testing. We know France insisted to have PCR tests for everybody, which is absolutely crazy, especially truck drivers. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk