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More than 2,000 British petrol stations remained dry on Thursday due to a shortage of truck drivers that was starting to disrupt deliveries to pharmacies, while farmers warned that a shortage of butchers could lead to a mass slaughter of pigs.
In a chaotic week, which saw fights at petrol stations and people filling water bottles with fuel, British ministers have insisted the crisis was easing, but on Wednesday ordered soldiers to start driving tankers.
Ministers have rejected criticism that the truck driver shortage has been caused by Britain's exit from the European Union, pointing to similar shortages elsewhere after confinements over COVID-19 halted thousands of truck driver tests.
The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents 65% of Britain's 8,380 gas stations, said its members reported Thursday that 27% of pumps were dry, 21% had only one type of fuel and 52% had enough gasoline and diesel.
"It is running out faster than usual because of unprecedented demand," said PRA chief executive Gordon Balmer, who said he continued to hear verbal and physical abuse of gas station staff.
Reuters reporters visited 10 gas stations in and around London on Thursday. Three were open. A line of dozens of drivers snaked from one of the stations, with staff trying to direct the queue.
The shortage of truckers is such that pharmacies were being affected.
"The whole supply chain has been affected, from supply from wholesale depots to deliveries from depots to pharmacies," said a spokeswoman for the association representing large operators in the sector.
In addition to fuel and medicines, the farming industry warned that hundreds of thousands of pigs may have to be slaughtered within weeks unless the government grants visas to allow more butchers into the country.
Ministry of Transport data indicated that car traffic was down 6 percentage points on Monday from the previous week to the lowest volume on a non-holiday Monday since July 12. England ended restrictions for COVID on July 19.
The disruption and the price rises it is expected to fuel threaten to undermine Britain's economic growth, forecast at 7% this year.
Britain's military is preparing to deploy soldiers to assist with fuel deliveries to gas stations, as an acute shortage of truck drivers strains supply chains in the UK to breaking point. pic.twitter.com/1Xw6bStTG0
Data released by the Office for National Statistics on Thursday showed the economy grew more than previously thought in the April-June period, ahead of what appeared to be a sharp slowdown, as bottlenecks after the shutdown, including a shortage of truck drivers, mount.
The fuel crisis has drawn scorn from some European capitals, with senior politicians suggesting that Britain's truck driver shortage was a clear consequence of its 2016 referendum decision to leave the EU.
British ministers have denied this, despite tens of thousands of EU truckers leaving during the Brexit maelstrom.
An acute shortage of butchers in the meat processing industry has been exacerbated by COVID-19 and Britain's post-Brexit immigration policy, which has restricted the flow of Eastern European workers.
Lizzie Wilson, head of political services at the National Pig Association (NPA), said the shortage of butchers meant processors were operating at 25% reduced capacity.
As a result, mature pigs ready for processing are piling up on farms, leading to sanitation problems.
"There are currently about 120,000 pigs on farms that should have already been slaughtered, butchered, been in the food chain and consumed," Wilson said.
Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union, said the slaughter of up to 150,000 pigs was "potentially a week to ten days away."