December 4, 2020

Brexit: Biden’s election could hold up UK-US trade deal, says environment secretary – UK politics live

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 Bartless, chair of the Association of Freight Software Suppliers, told the EU goods sub committee 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.

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.

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.

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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.

at 12.24pm GMT

11.28am GMT11:28

at 11.32am GMT