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HEALTH

UK-France border to stay open at Christmas to clear truck logjam

Rail and sea links between the UK and France will remain open over Christmas to clear the backlog of thousands of trucks stranded by border closures due to the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus, Britain said on Thursday, December 24.

UK-France border to stay open at Christmas to clear truck logjam
Image: Francois Lo Presti / AFP

Thousands of European truckers on Wednesday spent a fourth night sleeping in the cabs of their vehicles, which are stuck close to the major cross-Channel port of Dover while the drivers wait to pass a Covid test, as required by France for travel.

Around 6,000 trucks were waiting early Wednesday evening to cross the border according to Britain's Department of Transport, including 3,750 vehicles parked at the old Manston airport, which is also a Covid testing site.

The others are stuck on the nearby roads in the southeastern county of Kent. “As testing in Kent continues… I've spoken to my French counterpart (Jean-Baptiste Djebbari) and we've agreed the UK/French border at Eurotunnel, Dover & Calais WILL remain open throughout Xmas in order to help hauliers & citizens return home as soon as possible,” UK transport minister Grant Shapps
wrote on Twitter.

Ferry services do not usually run between Dover and France on Christmas Day. The massive testing operation, which is being bolstered by the military, began late Wednesday under an agreement between London and Paris to resume the flow of cross-Channel traffic.

France suspended the routes after a potentially more contagious variant of the virus was identified in Britain.

A team of 26 French firefighters arrived early Thursday in Dover with10,000 tests to help the British and “accelerate” the return of European citizens, according to France's ambassador to Britain Catherine Colonna.

Shapps said 2,367 tests had been carried out by 1200 GMT Thursday, and only three truckers had tested positive.

“As the EU Transport Commissioner (Adina Valean) has tweeted, testing hauliers is not recommended. Spending days in a lorry on your own puts you in an extremely low risk category!” he added.

'Irresponsible behaviour'

Britain's supply chain is highly dependent on trucks shuttling to and from mainland Europe and the closure has stoked fears shortages could arise, just days before the country leaves the EU single market and customs union.

Commissioner Valean estimated that a total of 10,000 European truckers were having difficulties returning from the UK. She blasted France for imposing the snap freight restrictions, criticisms rejected by Paris.

British MP Natalie Elphicke, the representative for Dover, backed the commissioner, tweeting that there was “no excuse for France's irresponsible behaviour in closing the Border.

“The EU Commissioner for Transport is right in her condemnation of France's decision and actions.”French truckers' union FNTR said the situation on the ground was still “chaotic”.

“Drivers I've spoken to, especially those at Manston airfield where thousands are parked, have been there four days without a shower, and hardly have a thing to eat or drink,” a spokeswoman said.

“They're in a dangerous place health-wise and socially. We're really starting to worry,” she added, warning of trouble ahead if they did not move start moving soon.

Volunteers from the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara in Gravesend were preparing thousands of hot meals and snacks for the drivers, part of a wider effort by Sikh humanitarian groups.

More than 50 countries have imposed travel restrictions on the UK after it was announced that a variant of Covid-19 believed by British scientists to spread faster had appeared in the country.

France went a step further by also imposing a freight ban.

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HEALTH

Health insurance: France to roll out smartphone version of carte vitale

France has begun a trial in eight areas of a smartphone version of the 'carte vitale' - the card required to access the French public health system - with the eventual aim of rolling out the app across the country. Here's how it will work.

Health insurance: France to roll out smartphone version of carte vitale

What is happening?

France is making changes to the carte vitale – the crucial card that allows residents of France to access the public health system. If you don’t have the card – here’s how to get it.

The new project involves replacing the physical card with a virtual one that is stored on your smartphone via an app.

The French government is beginning a pilot project in eight départements with the intention of expanding the system to cover the whole country in 2023.

The trial areas are; Bas-Rhin, Loire-Atlantique, Puy-de-Dôme, Saône-et-Loire, Sarthe, Seine-Maritime, Rhône and Alpes-Maritimes and the trials are voluntary for people who want to sign up. 

How does it work?

At present, the app is only available to those living in the trial areas mentioned above, and it can only be used by people who are already registered in the French system and have a carte vitale. It is not an alternative to the current registration process. 

If you have a carte vitale, however, you can transfer it onto your phone, which saves you having to remember to carry your card around.

You first download the app MonCV and then begin the sign-up process. In order to do this you will need your current card and social security number and will also have to go through a series of security steps including uploading a scan of your passport or ID card and then making a ‘short film’ of your face in order to verify your identity. 

Once registered, you can then use it at the doctor, pharmacist, vaccine centre or any other situation in which you previously used your carte vitale. You will be able to either show a QR code to scan, or scan your phone using NFC technology (similar to Metro and train smartphone tickets, which works even if your phone is turned off or out of battery).

Can you still use a card version?

Yes. If you don’t own a smartphone or are just not a fan of apps you can continue to use the physical card with no changes.

What does this change for healthcare access?

It doesn’t change anything in terms of your access to healthcare or paying for it, but some extra functions are set to be added to the app once the scheme is rolled out nationwide.

The first one is to link up your carte vitale with your mutuelle (complementary insurance) if you have it, so you don’t need to show extra proof from your insurance company in order to get full reimbursement.

The second is to add a ‘trusted person’ to your carte vitale, allowing them to use your card to, for example, pick up a prescription for you or to allow grandparents to take children to medical appointments (normally children are included on their parents’ card). 

Is this replacing the biometric carte vitale? 

You might remember talk earlier this year of a ‘biometric’ carte vitale, in which people would have to register biometric details such as their fingerprints in order to keep using their carte vitale.

This seems to have now been kicked into the long grass – it was a parliamentary amendment to a bill proposed by the centre-right Les Républicains party and was intended to combat prescription fraud.

Experts within the sector say that the costs and inconvenience of making everyone register their biometric details and get a new card far outweigh the costs of prescription fraud and the idea seems to have been put on the back burner for now. 

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