November 29, 2020

Boris Johnson not concerned if other world leaders speak to Biden first, No 10 claims – UK politics live

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Johnson not concerned if other world leaders speak to Biden first, No 10 claims

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1.13pm GMT13:13

The Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, gave a cautious welcome to the disclosure from Pfizer/BioNTech that their Covid-19 candidate vaccine is more than 90% effective but he said:

I’m not going to be tempted to suggested that this somehow means there is a magic bullet on the horizon and coronavirus is about to disappear.

He also revealed that a “common approach to Christmas” would be discussed by the devolved nations and the UK government at a meeting this week.

Drakeford said an announcement about next year’s exams and other qualifications would be made tomorrow.

1.10pm GMT13:10

Mark Drakeford says signs Covid rate falling in Wales offer ‘hope’ as lockdown ends

The Welsh first minister has said there are signs that Covid-19 rates are starting to fall in Wales as his country enjoys a first day of more freedoms following a 17-day firebreak.

While still emphasising that there will be no clear picture of the impact of the firebreak for a few weeks, Mark Drakeford said: “There are some tentative, early positive signs. Those give us hope.”

He said the incidence rate for the whole of Wales was down from 250 per 100,000 to just under 220. Drakeford said the rate for one of the worst hit spots, Merthyr Tydfil in south Wales, had been as high as 700 per 100,000 and was now at 520.

However, he also pointed out that the “grim milestone” of 2,000 deaths for Wales had been passed and there were 1,400 Covid-related cases in Welsh hospitals – more than in April.

A new set of Welsh national measures comes into force today, which will be reviewed in a fortnight, but the first minister said the government had not ruled out imposing more local restrictions if needed.

Drakeford said he was not surprised by images of busy shopping streets this morning but he believed stores were managing people well. He said:

Our exit from the firebreak needs to be careful and cautious so we can maximise its impact. Our success or failure rests in the hands of every one of us.

Shoppers queuing at Matalan on Queen Street, Cardiff, this morning following the lifting of the Welsh lockdown.

Shoppers queuing at Matalan on Queen Street, Cardiff, this morning following the lifting of the Welsh lockdown. Photograph: Gareth Everett/Huw Evans/Rex/Shutterstock

at 1.14pm GMT

1.02pm GMT13:02

The Brexit customs software system being developed by HMRC is “not ready”, is “not reliable” and “has not been tested”, the House of Lords has heard.

Steve Bartlett, the chair of the Association of Freight Software Suppliers, told the EU goods subcommittee that they will not get sight of the functionality of the customs declaration service until late November or December.

With just 52 days to go before Brexit is implemented, that was “unacceptable” he said.

The delays in rolling out the system, which is due to replace HMRC’s existing customs system, were “catastrophic”, peers were told by Des Hiscock, director general of the UK Association for International Trade. He said that no realistic contingencies were in place and he called on HMRC to stop its “cloak and dagger” approach, admit its failures and work urgently on alternatives.

The committee also heard that, in the event of no deal, the customs declarations problem would be “irrelevant” as 80% of truckers would not be able to export because the UK had only been allocated 2,088 driver permits out of the 11,500 needed.

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12.56pm GMT12:56

Airport bosses have welcomed a suggestion from the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, that the rapid swab tests for Covid-19 launched in Liverpool could lead to an end to quarantine for travellers. (See 11.08am.)

The lateral flow tests trialled in Liverpool gave “hope for optimism”, Shapps said. “Ultimately, it could open the way for non-quarantined air travel.”

Industry leaders said pre-departure testing remained the best option to allow widespread international travel to resume.

The Heathrow chief executive, John Holland-Kaye ,welcomed Shapps’ suggestion that a new testing regime that could cut the 14-day quarantine period. He went on:

While the message is very welcome, and I really hope that means five days [of self-isolation, instead of the current 14], we really need pre-departure testing to become the international standard if we are to get people flying again.

And Gatwick’s CEO, Stewart Wingate, said:

Our number one priority is for the UK government to use the coming days and weeks wisely to work with international partners to eliminate the need for quarantine, by the implementation of pre-departure antigen tests.

at 1.08pm GMT

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Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine found to be 90% effective in early trial

11.47am GMT11:47

Nearly 10% of Scottish pupils missing from school last week because of Covid, figures show

The number of school pupil absences linked to Covid-19 in Scotland has risen sharply to over 23,000, with more than 2,000 members of staff off school, the latest official data shows.

The number of pupils off school last week was the highest figure since more than 25,000 children were kept at home in late August, when schools reopened amid initial confusion and over-caution amongst parents and teachers about the rules for self-quarantining.

After that initial confusion absences subsided but the figures, compiled by the Scottish government’s education department, began rising again during September as Covid cases rose across the country.

The absence total hit an earlier peak of 18,062 in early October before the October school holidays saw that figure plunge, because most schools were closed, to 2,086.

Last week’s absence rate was equal to nearly 10% of total pupil numbers. However only 678 pupils – or 2.95% of the 23,034 children being kept off school – were absent because they were themselves ill with Covid-19 on Tuesday 3 November (the latest date where figures are available).

The number of school staff absent, which includes teachers and non-teaching staff, has climbed steadily since mid-September, from a low of 1,563 to a high last week of 2,206, with more than a thousand teachers off school due to self-isolation or illness.

Despite these rates of self-isolation and illness, only three local authority schools were closed last week: Cunard primary in West Dunbartonshire, Cardinal Winning secondary in Glasgow and Poolewe primary in Highland.

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