Developments in the United Kingdom over the last 48-72 hours indicate how, in a systemic breakdown crisis, worsening of any one aspect of the crisis triggers a further breakdown everywhere else. The out-of-control new strain of the virus in England caused Europe-wide measures to cut all travel with the U.K.; which led to huge lines of thousands of trucks unable to leave England for continental Europe; which caused panic buying and shortages in stores in the U.K.; and all of this nine days before the Brexit break between the U.K. and Europe is scheduled to go into effect.
There is clearly much that is not known about the new virus strain in the U.K., but government officials have already reported some alarming facts The Guardian reported today that the British government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Patrick Vallance, said the new variant was first seen in mid-September in London and Kent. By December, it had become the “dominant variant” in London; and by the week ending Dec. 9, it had accounted for 62% of cases in London, 59% of those in eastern England, and 43% in the southeast, Vallance reported.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Dec. 20 warned, “It is going to be very difficult to keep it [the new strain] under control until we have the vaccine rolled out. We know with this new variant you can catch it more easily from a small amount of the virus being present.”
Most European countries shut down all travel from the U.K. over the last 48-72 hours. One result, the Guardian reported: “Britain said 632 trucks were stacked up on the M20 motorway in Kent, southern England, and 2,188 at nearby Manston Airport, now being used as a giant lorry park. The government said additional toilets and food vendors were being arranged, after the Road Haulage Association raised concerns about drivers’ welfare.... ‘The plan was to stock up [on milk products] in the next 10 days so [that] if there is a Brexit problem there are stocks for January,’ said Alexander Anton, the secretary general of the European Dairy Association. ‘Now you can’t find a transport company to send a driver to the U.K.’ ”
One of the results was that there was some panic-buying in British stores: “shoppers stripped shelves in some supermarkets of turkey, toilet rolls, bread and vegetables,” according to one press account.
After a direct appeal from Boris Johnson, French authorities agreed to reopen France’s borders to passengers from England on Dec. 23, so long as they could show a negative COVID test that is less than 72 hours old The European Union also recommended that members loosen the border controls, to allow at least some freight through, and allow Europeans stranded in the U.K., to return home for Christmas.