The British government has pledged to keep vital routes for supplies and people protected through a coronavirus support package. The multimillion government support package for essential freight services in and out of and around the U.K. includes:
- up to £17 million for critical routes between Northern Ireland and Great Britain
- up to £10.5 million for lifeline ferry and freight services to the Isle of Wight and the Scilly Isles
- support for critical routes between Britain and the European mainland
The funding will ensure the ongoing supply of critical goods into the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, with up to 31 routes eligible for support, subject to discussions with operators.
The U.K. is working closely alongside French and Irish partners and on April 24 said in a statement that it would “strengthen partnership and share best practices”, to ensure the continued movement of freight across the continent.
The freight and passenger support package covers:
- 26 routes between Britain, France, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden, including Eurotunnel
- 7 routes between Great Britain and Northern Ireland
- routes to the Isle of Wight
- the Penzance-Scilly ferry
Alongside the protection for freight routes, the Transport Secretary also committed to fast track the launch of a new trial using drones between the mainland and St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight, helping ensure it is equipped to tackle the virus. This follows £28 million awarded by the government earlier this year to Southampton and Portsmouth councils to carry out drone trials of this kind as part of a wider future transport zone trial.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, said that essential supplies are continuing to flow well, but operators are facing challenges as fewer people traveling means less capacity to move goods.
The U.K. Department for Transport has announced that thousands of volunteers, vehicles, aircraft and ships from the transport sector have been placed on standby in a new ‘Transport Support Unit’ (TSU) to assist frontline responders during the crisis across the whole of the U.K.
Assets made available in the TSU include 4 fixed-wing aircraft owned by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, one of them a Boeing 737. They can be made available for tasks including moving emergency patients and medical supplies. Highways England can also release control vehicles for potential use as mobile COVID-19 testing centres. Network Rail, with the eighth largest commercial vehicle fleet in the country, has 8,500 vans and trucks which can be used to transport essential items during the crisis. It is making available its seven regional distribution centers which can be used for COVID-19 related supplies.