Toilets Fill Up, Tempers Flare as Truckers Stuck in U.K. Rebel

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All Arturro Bojdal wants for Christmas is Poland.

Like thousands of other truckers hauling goods between the U.K. and the European mainland, the Polish driver has been waylaid for days two miles from Dover in southeast England, unable to cross to Calais, France. He was running a load from Southampton to the Czech Republic, but a detour Monday parked him at a local airport to wait for coronavirus testing.

“First they said testing would start yesterday, then today,” he said as frustration boiled over Wednesday between local authorities and several drivers, with some isolated clashes and a few apparent arrests. “The police told us tests got stuck on the motorway.”

Otherwise, there’s been free food, Bojdal said -- a cheeseburger with salad on Tuesday -- and a local Sikh relief organization was distributing 1,000 hot meals on Wednesday.

But on this rainy winter’s day, the backlog was clearing only slowly and some of life’s basic necessities were running short, or getting a little awkward.

“The toilets are full. They have no water,” Bojdal said. “I’ve been sleeping in my cab with another driver.”

The Dover disruptions stem from France’s decision late Sunday to block inbound trucks from the U.K. as the island nation battles a resurgent new strain of the virus.

Brexit Preview

For some residents of the U.K., it was a taste of life and commerce cut off from the EU, bringing a foreboding sense of isolation rather than the political promise of Brexit unleashing economic independence.

All around Dover on Wednesday, traffic leading into the port remained gridlocked as officials tried to get drivers tested before their journets could resume. The tests, which can be administered and results returned within in about 15 minutes, have been the main holdup.

“We haven’t had any firm advice on how many tests they’ll be able to process,” said Doug Bannister, chief Executive of the Port of Dover. “We’ve indicated that we need 400-500 tests an hour to be processed if we’re going to keep the port full and ferries full.”

Bannister said there are plans in place in the run-up to Brexit for dealing with gridlock around the ports, “but this is a rather unprecedented situation that’s evolved. We hope to get traffic moving at a good clip during the course of today.”

That would be a welcome sight to Croatian Milean Lonca, a 40-year-old lorry driver for Lukenda Transport. He’s going from Manchester to Germany with chocolate and biscuits. It’s not food that he wants anymore. Rather, it’s to be with his 3- and 6-year-old children.

“We are truck drivers. We don’t come into contact with anybody,” he said. “I want to go home. Now I won’t make it. I don’t know where I will have Christmas.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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