Hauliers going to France will need negative Covid-19 test from Thursday
Chaos at ports forecast as testing system ‘not ready’ to cope with French protocol
Drivers also have the option of getting tested at the many private facilities around the country as long as these tests meet the French requirements. Photograph: Maxwell’s Handout/PA
This follows a decision by the French government to introduce a mandatory Covid-19 requirement for all hauliers carrying goods on direct ferry routes from Ireland to France.
Hauliers will now be required to take a rapid antigen test – rather than the longer PCR test normally used to detect the virus – ahead of travelling.
The new testing protocol comes into force on the French side from Thursday and will apply to drivers travelling on any ferry leaving Ireland for France on Wednesday after 11pm Irish time, the Department of Transport said.
France had in recent days signalled it planned to adopt tougher containment measures to prevent the spread of the more infectious UK coronavirus strain from Ireland.
“The Department of Transport, in conjunction with Transport Infrastructure Ireland and Wexford County Council, is working extensively to finalise the opening of State-supported antigen testing facilities for hauliers,” the department said in a statement.
“These tests will be made available free of charge at dedicated testing sites near the ports of Dublin and Rosslare,” it said, noting tests will only be provided to hauliers who are travelling to France or other countries where a negative Covid-19 test is required for entry.
The department said it was liaising closely with the haulage industry and shipping sector in relation to the introduction of these new testing requirements for commercial vehicle drivers and would issue guidance directly to the haulage representative organisations and ferry operators.
Speaking on Wednesday afternoon, Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA) president Eugene Drennan expressed concern that the testing infrastructure was not ready to cope with demand from drivers, many of whom are exporting time-sensitive goods and cannot afford to be caught up in delays and backlogs.
“The French want it, we have no choice, but we haven’t got the system in place. The reaction has been too slow.”
This is despite the industry’s warnings to the department last month that potential chaos could arise if requirements to provide a negative test were introduced, Mr Drennan said.
Hauliers have been told an online booking service will be available, but it was unclear how they would be able to access the testing sites if they are “the 27th truck in line”, he added, predicting “trouble” over the weekend.
The IRHA president said he hoped the French authorities would “keep their word” and allow hauliers to leave ships that arrive in French ports tomorrow having set sail from Ireland before the Wednesday 11pm deadline.
The department has also indicated that drivers will have the option of getting tested at the many private facilities around the country as long as these tests meet the French requirements. But these costs will not be covered by the State.
Mr Drennan said hauliers were already facing significant extra costs as a result of Brexit and it was not feasible for many drivers to make detours for private testing.
Independent TD for Wexford Verona Murphy, a former president of the IRHA, said the Government’s failure to get the testing sites up and running ahead of the new French requirement was typical of its “reactive rather than proactive” approach.
“A rapid testing system must be in place by tomorrow to ensure that our exports can reach their destination and to ensure that we have no disruption to ferry schedules.”