Coronavirus Christmas: Warnings over panic buying as countries close borders and ban freight

Consumers have been warned against panic buying after France confirmed it was the latest country to suspend all traffic, including freight and passenger transport, from the UK for 48 hours.

The move comes following concerns over a mutant strain of coronavirus that appears to be “spreading rapidly” across England and Wales, according to the Prime Minister.

The UK’s leading freight trade association, Logistics UK, said it is concerned about the welfare of drivers travelling across the channel and has urged shoppers to not stockpile.

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A statement from the group read: “Logistics UK is aware that accompanied freight from the UK is not being allowed access to France for 48 hours; Logistics UK is very concerned about the welfare of drivers travelling from the UK to France at this time and is urgently seeking more information for our members.

A lorry driver views the queue of lorries on the M20 as lorries wait to enter the Eurotunnel site in Folkestone, Kent, due to heavy freight traffic.
A lorry driver views the queue of lorries on the M20 as lorries wait to enter the Eurotunnel site in Folkestone, Kent, due to heavy freight traffic.

"Driver health and safety is our concern, and it is essential that they continue to be recognised as key workers and given access to testing, if necessary, as a priority to ensure the continued movement of goods to and from France.

"Shoppers should not panic buy – retailers will be making every 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."

It added the organisation is in close contact with the UK Government to ensure that supplies of fresh produce will be available throughout the Christmas and New Year period.

Sky News understands that the government is tracking how many days of food are left on supermarket shelves, amid fears that if the ports shut for longer than the current two days, some foodstuffs will run out in just a couple of weeks.

Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, one of the UK’s leading organisations representing the food and drink industries 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. Truckers will not want to travel here if they have a real fear of getting marooned.”

The chief executive of the Road Haulage Association (RHA), Richard Burnett, said the "fresh food supply where it's short shelf life and there will be product on its way now, that's where the challenge kind of comes from" after France’s freight ban.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The concern that we do have though is that with it being so close to Christmas we're looking at 48 hours at this point in time in terms of the restrictions, we're likely to see Operation Stack building in terms of numbers of vehicles on the UK side and that might be a deterrent for EU hauliers to want to come so close to Christmas and end up being stranded here, that's part of the challenge that we're facing today.”

But he said he had a conversation with UK transport secretary Grant Shapps who said the UK is working with French counterparts to ensure this issue is resolved “as quickly as possible."

The Prime Minister will chair a meeting of the Government’s Cobra civil contingencies committee on Monday as ministers seek to ensure a “steady flow of freight into and out of the UK”, Downing Street said.

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