Aside from the occasional miniature tree and paper chains hung from cabs, there was little festive cheer for the thousands of truckers stuck on an old airfield in southeast England on Christmas Eve.
Several thousand cargo trucks have been trapped for days around the southern English port of Dover since France closed borders with Britain in a bid to stop the spread of a new coronavirus strain.
Army personnel were going from truck to truck, conducting rapid coronavirus tests that give results in 40 minutes as part of measures to try to start up travel again.
Pawel, 34, a driver from Poland, had just been tested and said his plan was to go to Folkestone 42 kilometers (26 miles) away, take the Eurotunnel and go home to his family.
“It’s impossible,” he told AFP of his three days at the Manston airfield, on the outskirts of Ramsgate, where many trucks have been parked while the travel crisis is sorted out.
“I’ve no words to describe what we’re feeling here. All of our families are waiting for us. Heartbreaking.”
He said drivers were furious with France for shutting their borders in response to the emergence of a new, potentially more contagious variant of the coronavirus.
On his way back, he said, he will retaliate by not stopping there “for the food, for petrol, for anything.”
“Ninety percent of people here are also not going to stop in France,” he said.
Hot food and horns
On the airfield, a cold December wind blew in from the Channel.
The poorly lit site, run by the Department of Transport with the help of the armed forces, was a bewildering maze of trucks.
Drivers were hoping to get to ports after spending days going nowhere but said it was unclear which ferries would run to clear the backlog, both on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
At one point, they sounded their horns together in frustration.
There were free catering vans offering items ranging from burgers to Thai food. Some said they were unhappy about the food, but others said it was plentiful, with volunteer groups bringing around hot fare, including from the Polish community.
“That was very nice. We were so thankful for this,” Pawel said.
There were also mobile toilets that seemed clean, though drivers complained they were full.
“We got stuck. It’s been three days,” said Valery, 37, a driver from Kyiv, who had not been tested yet.
“They herded us in here and told us to stay. We need to get home already. Maybe we will make it for New Year’s?
“There are no facilities, no showers, nothing,” he complained.
Other drivers said there were showers, but it was a long walk to find them.
Radko Ivanov, 56, from Bulgaria, angrily asked troops to be tested and complained that other drivers in smaller trucks were maneuvering to jump the queue.
“The situation is terrible,” he said, complaining of a lack of organization. “I must guess what I got to do.”
As of lunchtime on Christmas Eve, there were still 3,200 trucks at the site and at least 1,800 drivers had been tested, according to the armed forces.
Altogether, 320 military personnel were conducting tests at Manston, at the port of Dover and on the M20 motorway.
At Manston there were three army units including a deployment of engineers from nearby Maidstone.
Two Sikh volunteer groups were distributing food in the evening on the M20, where many other stranded drivers were parked.
Voice of America – English