Boris Johnson to chair emergency meeting over UK travel chaos

Boris Johnson will hold crisis talks with senior ministers and officials after France banned hauliers lorries carrying freight across the channel amid fears over the new coronavirus strain.

Countries around the world have banned flights from the UK as an emergency response to the emergence of the mutant coronavirus, which spreads more easily than previous strains.

The Prime Minister will chair a meeting of the Government’s Cobra civil contingencies committee on Monday amid warnings of “significant disruption” to the UK's food supply over Christmas.

Ahead of a meeting of the Cobra committee chaired by the Prime Minister, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said emergency measures were being put in place to cope with a backlog of lorries heading for the channel ports.

But he sought to play down the potential impact, stressing that container freight was not hit by the French ban on travellers.

Along with France, countries across the world announced restrictions on UK travel following the disclosure that the highly infectious new strain is widespread across south-east England.

Italian authorities said the mutant strain had been detected in a traveller who recently returned to the country from the UK.

French health minister Olivier Veran said it was already "entirely possible" the new variant – VUI 202012/01 – was already circulating there, although tests had not detected it.

  • Operation Stack activated as M20 turns into car park with lorries queuing for miles

As well as affecting freight flows from Dover and the Channel Tunnel at Folkestone, the disruption will leave passengers stranded in the run-up to Christmas.

Mr Shapps attempted to calm fears about the wider impact of the French decision.

The Transport Secretary said hauliers were "quite used to anticipating disruption", adding there were variations in supply "all the time".

Mr Shapps said he was talking to French counterpart Jean-Baptiste Djebbari and told Sky News: "The absolute key is to get this resolved as soon as possible."

Asked if consumers will see shortages in supermarkets, Mr Shapps said: "The supply chain is pretty robust in as much as you get variations in supply all the time. For the most part, people won't notice it."

Sainsbury's warned there could be "gaps over the coming days" in the supply of lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit – all of which are imported from the continent at this time of year.

It comes after the Prime Minister announced that the new variant was up to 70% more transmissible than the original strain while Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted it was "out of control" and the Tier 4 lockdown may have to remain in place for months.

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