Delivery of the coronavirus vaccine will not be disrupted as a result of France’s ban on freight and travel from the UK, the transport secretary has told Sky News.
Grant Shapps said containers unaccompanied by hauliers are still allowed through the port of Dover, which is how most of the jabs arrive from Belgium, so supplies will not be affected by the serious developing situation in Kent.
“This won’t have an impact on the vaccination programme,” he promised.
About half a million people in the UK are believed to have had their first dose of the Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine so far, Mr Shapps said.
He sought to reassure the public there will be no significant food or medicine shortages, and said there was “no reason” for people to shop any differently than they would normally in the run up to Christmas.
A growing list of countries is banning travel from the UK due to fears of a new strain of coronavirus, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson said could be up to 70% more transmissible than existing ones.
France went one step further by also restricting hauliers for 48 hours – while most others have exempted them to keep trade moving.
Mr Shapps said the move was “slightly surprising” and admitted “we don’t want these links closed for too long”, but added it is “not unusual” for them to be disrupted due to strikes and bad weather.
He said he had spoken to his French counterpart last night and will do so again on Monday morning to push for the around 6,000 hauliers normally crossing the Channel by ferry or train a day to be allowed through again.
Asked if the ban could last longer than 48 hours, Mr Shapps said “I very much hope not”.
He added authorities were “ready for a degree of disruption” due to the impending threat of trade talks with the EU collapsing, which would have a severe impact on the main routes for exporting and importing.
There are just ten days until the post-Brexit transition period ends.
Ian Murray, Labour’s shadow Scotland secretary, told Sky News: “We need to hear from the prime minister today about what credible plans he has in place to ensure that we have food and vaccine supplies and good travel to and from the UK…
“This is a crisis of his own making, because of his dither and delay, and in making changes to the regulations across the UK. This is the consequence of it.”