Truckers stranded in UK wonder if they will get home for Christmas


  • World
  • Monday, 21 Dec 2020

FILE PHOTO: Lorries are parked on the M20 motorway towards Eurotunnel and the Port of Dover, as EU countries impose a travel ban from the UK following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Folkestone, Britain, December 21, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

ASHFORD, England (Reuters) - Stanislaw Olbrich, a 55-year-old truck driver stranded 24 miles north of Dover after much of the world shut borders to Britain, just wants to get home for Christmas with his wife and three children in southern Poland.

Many countries, including the rest of Europe, closed their borders to Britain after Prime Minister Boris Johnson effectively cancelled Christmas for millions because of an infectious new coronavirus strain.

For Olbrich, the border closures are a frustrating illustration of just how disruptive COVID-19 has become to normal life.

As Britain heads towards a Brexit cliff edge on Dec. 31, Olbrich also suspects politics may be at play.

"I take freight to Britain and I can't go back home because of (the) stupid virus. But I don't know if it is the virus - I think it's politics," Olbrich told Reuters at Ashford International Truckstop around 24 miles (39 km) north of Dover.

"It's very difficult for me because I am away. My chances of going home for Christmas are going down. It's stupid and I am nervous and unhappy about that."

Olbrich has been trucking since 2004, working two weeks on and two weeks off, bringing freight to Britain and then returning with a load to Poland.

The novel coronavirus, which emerged in Wuhan, China last year, has killed nearly 1.7 million people, destroyed swathes of the global economy and upended normal life - including Ramadan, Diwali and Christmas - across the world.

A plethora of vaccines had offered hope that 2021 could be different, but Johnson on Saturday convened a press conference to warn about a virulent new strain of the virus.

France promptly closed its border to UK traffic, forcing ferries and the Channel Tunnel to stop services. While freight can still enter the United Kingdom, drivers are unlikely to risk getting trapped until the border reopens.

The freight industry estimates that of the truck drivers operating in Britain, around 80% are employed by EU-owned businesses. Many drivers were delivering to British companies that are stockpiling goods before the end of the year.

Surrounded by about 200 other stranded trucks in Ashford, Olbrich said his boss told him about the closed border late on Sunday after a break.

He might not get back home to Bielsko-Biala, southern Poland, for Christmas with his family.

"They need me to come for Christmas - it is a very special holiday in Poland. For Polish people it is very hard to be away at Christmas," Olbrich said.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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