Lorry drivers in Kent have spent a second night sleeping in their vehicles waiting for the border with France to reopen – as politicians thrash out a plan to restart the flow of freight.
France shut the border for 48 hours on Sunday, leaving 900 lorries stacked-up near Dover amid fears over a new coronavirus variant in the UK.
Other European countries are talking about how to coordinate their response.
More than 40 countries have now banned UK arrivals due to the mutation.
Measures agreed between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron will be announced later and come into effect from Wednesday, French Europe Minister Clément Beaune said.
European Union member states will meet again in Brussels to discuss a co-ordinated response, including pooling expertise about the dangers posed by the new variant, our Europe correspondent Kevin Connolly said.
More than 40 countries, including Spain, France and India have banned UK flights after parts of England, including London, entered tough tier four – “stay at home” – restrictions.
It comes as:
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said there was “zero evidence at this point” that the new variant of coronavirus discovered in England causes “any increase in severity associated with” Covid-19.
It urged the public to continue with measures known to reduce the spread: hand washing, social distancing, and wearing face coverings.
Royal Mail said it has temporarily suspended all mail services to Europe, with the exception of the Republic of Ireland, due to the “current restrictions around air, road, ferry and train movements from the UK”.
The Channel is a vital trade route, with about 10,000 lorries a day travelling between Dover and Calais in peak periods such as Christmas, largely bringing in the freshest produce.
On Monday evening, Highways England said that “because of heavy freight numbers heading to the Channel Tunnel and port of Dover”, the M20 was closed and would not reopen until 08:00 GMT on Tuesday.
It said many vehicles would be held at Manston Airport as an earlier “stacking” operation on the motorway was wound down.
About 1,550 lorries crossed into the UK through the port on Monday but retailers warned of “serious disruption” without a resolution, with Tesco and Sainsbury’s saying some fresh produce such as lettuce and citrus fruits could run short.
But Mr Johnson maintained delays only affected a very small percentage of food entering the UK and supermarket supply chains were “strong and robust”.
The UK’s chief scientific adviser told the Downing Street briefing that further restrictions are likely to be introduced in more areas of England to control the new variant of Covid-19.
Sir Patrick Vallance said measures could “need to be increased in some places, in due course, not reduced”.
London and large swathes of south-east England were placed in the highest tier four restrictions over the weekend.
Sir Patrick also predicted there would be a spike in cases after an “inevitable period of mixing” over Christmas.
Asked why tougher measures were not in place across the country following the introduction of the tier 4 level, he added: “The evidence on this virus is that it spreads easily. It’s more transmissible. We absolutely need to make sure we have the right level of restrictions in place.”
Investors reacted badly to news of the new variant, with shares in leading companies falling during trading in London on Monday.
It comes as a further 33,364 positive coronavirus tests were recorded in the UK. There were also a further 215 deaths within 28 days of testing positive, bringing the nation’s total to 67,616.