Following a massive of spike of cases in the south-east of England and the discovery a new strain of Covid-19 believed to be 70% more infectious, a number of countries have shut their borders to the UK since the weekend.
Among them is key trade partner France, which on Sunday night announced a 48-hour air, rail and sea travel ban, including on accompanied freight, to allow time to establish a new protocol with EU members for allowing movement from the UK.
Paris was due to decide today whether to lift the ban, which has caused delays on trade routes between the two countries, and was calling for a strict testing regime to be introduced.
The disruption could be compounded by a potential no-deal Brexit on 1 January, with EU and UK negotiators still struggling to finalise a new trade deal.
Concerns are growing that the disruption could lead to shortages of vital supplies such as food and medicine, including Covid-19 vaccines.
But both SandpiperCI, which runs Morrisons Daily, Iceland and Marks & Spencer in the Channel Islands, and Waitrose moved to reassure their customers they would have the food they want for Christmas.
A spokesman for SandpiperCI said that the firm had been liaising with the Government of Jersey for more than a year on supply-line issues, due to concerns over Brexit.
‘Sandpiper’s UK-based suppliers and producers are also in constant contact with UK authorities, UK suppliers, haulage firms and CI shipping and freight companies,’ he said.
‘Considerable planning has already been undertaken and all supply-chain elements are as ready as they can be without knowing the specific details of any travel bans that might affect cross-Channel haulage between France and the UK, or any potential Brexit deal or no deal.’
He added: ‘Clearly, everyone is waiting for the outcome of whether a travel ban is prolonged or not, and whether a deal is agreed or not. Sandpiper’s supply chains are resilient and able to cope with short-term availability issues. Once the current situation becomes clearer, further operational decisions can be made to ensure the smooth transfer to any new conditions or arrangements.
‘Finally, there are not expected to be any issues with the availability of Christmas food over the coming days.’
A spokeswoman for Waitrose also said the matter was being monitored, but confirmed that its supermarkets would be properly stocked for Christmas.
‘We are working with our suppliers to understand the implications of the decision by French authorities as well as the potential protocol,’ she said.
‘We already have the vast majority of our festive food – so our customers will be able to get what they need for Christmas.’
Meanwhile, the Channel Islands Co-operative Society was due to hold an emergency meeting on the matter late yesterday afternoon.
Other countries that have banned travel from the UK include Ireland, Spain, Poland, Italy and Germany, with the list continuing to grow.
Condor said that the delivery of freight from Portsmouth to the Channel Islands would not be affected by the travel ban.
Steve Champion-Smith, the company’s freight director, said that most freight delivered to the Island came from the UK and vital supplies like food and medicine were ‘unaccompanied’.
Mr Champion-Smith said that freight deliveries would continue as usual, aided by the additional temporary deployment of the Arrow vessel.
‘We are highly unlikely to encounter issues with deliveries to the Islands due to the recently imposed border restrictions as the vast majority of the freight supply chain is UK-originating,’ he said.
‘All food and medicines are brought in as unaccompanied freight and the ban on drivers and movements of people to and from France does not impact on us. A large amount of the stocks destined for Christmas is already in the islands.
‘Our freight movements will continue as planned on a daily basis and we have a chartered vessel – the Arrow – scheduled to operate additional sailings.’
Charlie Gallichan, who runs Woodside Logistics, said that he felt there would be no panic and the Island was well prepared for any disruption.
‘Local businesses have done a good job preparing themselves for pre-Brexit and for pre-Christmas,’ he said.
‘I think the supermarkets are very well prepared. The biggest risk is probably there are about 5,000 artic lorries parked up [near Dover] and they could head westward trying to find another way to reach the continent.
‘There could be some disruption that way, but Jersey lorries will have passes meaning they should be able to slip any queues if there are any. I don’t think there’s any risk of panic.
‘Condor also have an additional vessel on at this time, so they have three boats instead of two.’