UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson held an emergency meeting with ministers on Monday, after fears about a new coronavirus variant discovered in the country prompted a chaotic border shutdown and saw British travelers shut out from dozens of countries in Europe and around the world.

Alarm over the new variant, which was first identified in England, led a number of nations to impose restrictions on travel from the UK.

France announced a temporary ban on all travel and accompanied freight on Sunday night, a potential disaster for UK exporters who rely on trade with Europe. The border closure exacerbated pre-Christmas delays, with trucks backed up from the port of Dover in the southeast of England, a key crossing point for hauliers.

Worse, the move has sparked worry that European exporters would be reluctant to send goods to the UK, for fear of not being able to return. The timing of the restrictions, just days before Christmas and the end of the Brexit transition period, raised concerns about food and medicine shortages in the UK at a critical time.

Johnson sought to allay those concerns in a televised press conference on Monday, telling Britons that “the vast majority of food and medicine supplies are coming and going as normal.”

His transport secretary, Grant Shapps, added that 170 lorries were still stuck on the motorways around Dover, with more in a holding area, but said that number had been reduced from over 500 on Sunday night.

It came after Kent Police were forced to close sections of England’s M20 motorway to “avoid gridlock” in the area surrounding the Eurotunnel. Operation Stack — a contingency plan that allows part of the highway to be allocated to parked trucks — has been put in place.

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Boris Johnson to hold emergency meeting as concerns grow over new coronavirus variant

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