France will reopen its borders to passengers from England on Wednesday, ending a blockade intended to stop the spread of a new coronavirus variant, but which has held up thousands of lorries before Christmas.

Much of the world shut its borders to Britain after a significantly more transmissible mutated coronavirus variant was discovered spreading swiftly across southern England.

With queues of trucks snaking to the horizon in England and some supermarket shelves stripped just days before Christmas, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson scrambled to get French President Emmanuel Macron to lift a ban on freight from Britain.

Late on Tuesday a deal was reached with Paris to allow French and other EU residents to return home, providing they have a negative COVID test that is less than 72 hours old.

Britain said it would begin handing out tests at multiple locations on Wednesday, but cautioned that the process would take time.

“We’ll be making sure that tomorrow we’re out there providing tests,” Shapps said. “This will take two or three days for things to be cleared.”

Truckers were told not to travel to the Kent region where the most heavily used rail and ferry links are..

Earlier the European Commission advised that non-essential travel to and from Britain should be discouraged but said that people heading home should be allowed to do so, provided they undergo a COVID-19 test or quarantine for 10 days.

However, border controls are governed by national policy, so each EU country can have its own rules.