A new, highly contagious strain of coronavirus in the UK is sparking fear across Europe.
Concentrated in London, South East- and the East of England, the new strain is thought to be 71% more transmissible than other variants.
When the UK’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) met on 18 December, they noted the new strain could be responsible for an increase in the R-value (the number of people that one infected person will pass on a virus to, on average) from 0.39 to 0.93.
The following day the UK announced stricter restrictions for parts of England, including London, which has since prompted various forms of transport restrictions across a majority of Member States.
France cuts off UK freight traffic
At the time of writing, at least 15 countries – both within and outside the EU – have introduced restrictions on travellers coming from the UK.
These include Canada, Hong Kong, Switzerland and Turkey, and Member States Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and France.
France’s decision, which includes a 48-hour ban on all British travellers and traffic freight – including food and drink products – as of midnight CET 20 December, has caused particular concern in the UK.
While France is still able to export goods to the UK during this time, it is thought to be unlikely hauliers will risk the voyage. The UK, therefore, could well be caught short of fresh food supplies, suggested UK trade association Food and Drink Federation (FDF).
Commenting on France’s decision yesterday, FDF CEO Ian Wright said: “Tonight’s suspension of accompanied freight traffic from the UK to France has the potential to cause serious disruption to UK Christmas fresh food supplies and exports of UK food and drink. Continental truckers will not want to travel here if they have a real fear of getting marooned.”
Governments urged to exempt food from travel ban
FDF has called on the UK Government to seek a modification of France’s restrictions. “The Government must very urgently persuade the French government to exempt accompanied freight from its ban.”
FoodDrinkEurope Director General, Mella Frewen, has similarly highlighted the need for food and drink products to be exempted from UK travel bans.
“The food supply chain relies on the rapid transfer of goods across the Channel and we urge the European Commission to work with national authorities to exempt food and drink products from the travel ban, to help drivers out of queues, while ensuring all health and safety measures are applied, and to step up the EU's crisis response,” she said.
“Since the start of the COVID pandemic, food and drink has been considered as ‘essential’ by the EU and allowed to move across borders with as little disruption as possible, and that should continue.”
UK urged not to panic buy
The new strain and follow-on restrictions have also prompted concerns that UK consumers could start stockpiling food – as the nation experienced earlier this year when the novel coronavirus first hit Europe.
“Shoppers should not panic buy – retailers will be making ever effort to ensure there is stock within the system, including fresh produce, and it is important that we remember that inbound traffic still has access to the UK,” noted Logistics UK in a statement.
“We are maintaining close contact with UK Government to ensure that supplies of fresh produce are available throughout Christmas and the New Year.
“Our advice to members is to check with ports before travelling, and keep in close contact with drivers to ensure their welfare is maintained.”