Vehicles from England began arriving in Calais and train and air travel to France started to resume on Wednesday morning after Paris reopened its borders with the UK for people who test negative for Covid-19.
France announced the reopening late on Tuesday, ending a 48-hour closure imposed in a bid to stop the spread through Europe of a new strain of coronavirus now dominant in parts of southern England.
A few cars and a van began trickling into the EU in the early hours of Wednesday after ferries from Dover arrived in Calais, AFP reported from Calais.
Eurostar and Getlink, which runs the Channel Tunnel rail link, both confirmed that train services between the UK and France had resumed, while some flights between UK airports and France were scheduled to leave on Wednesday morning.
Only truck drivers and French and EU citizens or residents with an essential reason to travel who show a negative Covid-19 test result less than 72 hours old will be allowed into France until at least January 6.
The pound rose as the frontier reopened, climbing about 0.5 per cent to $1.3429 in London.
The UK government has said there is a backlog of about 4,000 trucks in Kent waiting to cross into France, but the Road Haulage Association said on Tuesday evening there were between 8,000 and 10,000.
Robert Jenrick, the UK housing and communities secretary, said there may be vehicles that have not used the official holding areas. “Whether it is 4,000 or more it is a significant number to work through,” Mr Kenrick told Sky News.
The British army is being deployed to test truck drivers in a vast logistical operation starting on Wednesday morning, but it was not clear when the first drivers to be tested would reach France. Ministers admit the backlog of thousands of vehicles will take several days to clear.
France said it would not insist on so-called PCR tests, which require laboratory analysis and typically take at least a day to return results, but would demand that tests be sensitive to the new variant.
The British army will test lorry drivers across Kent using lateral flow tests, and any driver who tests positive will be offered a PCR test and sent to a secure hotel to isolate if an infection is confirmed.
Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at business group Logistics UK, said: “It is now vital that Covid-19 testing procedures be stood up fast to ensure drivers can be processed and get home for Christmas safely.”
The sudden closure of French frontiers to all travellers from the UK had severely disrupted the crucial freight routes between the UK and Europe across the Channel by ferry and the Channel Tunnel.
Sterling tumbled below $1.32 on Monday as investors responded to the UK’s announcement of restrictions to combat the new virus strain and a series of travel bans that followed.