Wednesday briefing: Traveller Covid testing system under stress

Hallo, I’m Warren Murray, glad you could join us in the briefing room.

The government is under pressure to intervene amid concerns that its Covid testing regime for travellers is close to collapse. Photos online have shown drop-off boxes overflowing with unprocessed swabs, while growing numbers of returning holidaymakers are reporting test kits failing to arrive or taking up to six days to process. The testing regime looks set to be overwhelmed as more travellers start returning from August getaways.

The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw said PCR tests on fully vaccinated people returning from countries with lower Covid rates lower than the UK were “a complete scam and completely unacceptable”. The Liberal Democrats have called for the government to cap “rip-off” costs and scrap the VAT on tests after its research found that, of the more than 400 providers who met minimum standards to provide PCR tests for travel, only 47 charged under £50, while one test costs £575. Keep up on coronavirus developments around the world at our live blog.

‘Deeply, deeply apologise’ – The women who accuse Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment have said they feel “vindicated and relieved” after the New York governor resigned. The lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, will become the first woman to hold the state governorship when she succeeds Cuomo in two weeks. Announcing his resignation, Cuomo said he had thought his behaviour was acceptable but acknowledged the 11 women involved were probably “truly offended” and said “for that I deeply, deeply apologise”. He also said there was “no factual basis” for the most serious allegation against him. It has been a fast, furious and vertical fall from grace for Cuomo, who in March 2020 held 87% approval for his response to the coronavirus pandemic, and proved to be the most prominent and trusted Democratic voice amid a public health crisis under then-president Donald Trump.

Midweek catch-up

> A-level inequality between private and state schools grew to its widest in the modern era as teacher assessment again replaced exams across the UK. Independent schools’ top grades rose nine percentage points to 70%, compared with six percentage points elsewhere.

> A Canadian entrepreneur who was arrested in China on spying claims, just days after the Canadian arrest of a Huawei executive, has been sentenced to 11 years in prison after a secret trial. Critics say the case is China using “hostage politics”.

> Emergency powers to handle post-Brexit queues of up to 13,000 lorries across Kent are being made permanent, signalling the government expects further disruption. Operation Brock was meant to end by October 2021.

> A nurse in Germany is suspected of injecting people with saline solution rather than Covid shots. Authorities have appealed for up to 8,600 people to get vaccinated again. The nurse had expressed vaccine scepticism on social media, polisie gesê.

> Britain may be opening the door to animal testing of cosmetic ingredients, according to the animal welfare charity CFI. It comes after the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) ruled some ingredients need to be tested on animals for safety.

> Coca-Cola bottles and cans were the most prevalent branded litter on beaches in the UK, a report has found. The company and others say the UK needs a good deposit return scheme (DRS) so their packaging is returned for recycling.

‘Democracy can still work’ – The US Senate has passed a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, met 19 Republicans joining Democrats to get it through. It affirmed Joe Biden’s strategy to push bipartisanship: “Today, we proved that democracy can still work,” said the president, noting that the 69-30 vote included the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell. The bill still has to go again through the House of Representatives before Biden can sign it into law. The White House says it will create “millions of jobs” – investing new federal funds in upgrading roads and bridges, as well as supporting greener policies such as expanding networks of charging stations for electric cars and boosting train travel and electric buses.

Lamb legacy – Lamb grazed on samphire, sorrel and sea lavender on the Gower peninsular in Wales is the first UK food to receive protection under a post-Brexit regime. The geographical indication scheme marks out regional products and was set up to replace a previous EU-wide scheme. Produced using knowledge and skills dating back to medieval times, Gower salt marsh lamb comes from lamb born, reared and slaughtered in south Wales. The UK protection regime – which includes speciality products such as traditional Bramley apple pie filling – already includes more than 5,000 products from across Europe originally protected under the EU scheme, such as Melton Mowbray pies, Jersey Royal potatoes, and champagne.

A major UN scientific report has concluded global heating is now irreversible and it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the planet.

When 18-year-old Edward Mallen killed himself, his father blamed the NHS, society – and himself. Hy founded the Zero Suicide Alliance to try to make such deaths a thing of the past.

In die Verenigde Koninkryk en Ierland, Daar kan met Samaritane gekontak word 116 123 of per e -pos jo@samaritans.org of jo@samaritans.ie. In die VSA, die Nasionale lewensmoordvoorkoming vir selfmoord is 1-800-273-8255. In Australië, die krisisondersteuningsdiens Redding is 13 11 14. Ander internasionale hulplyne kan gevind word by befrienders.org.

Lionel Messi has pledged to “help build something special” at Paris Saint-Germain after completing his move and signing a two-year contract on Tuesday. The story of Barcelona and Lionel Messi has not been about the extraordinary numbers but something more – the memories. A decision is to be taken before the end of the year about the possible launch of a female British & Ierse Leeus -toerspan. Luka Dončić welcomed all his bosses met die Dallas Mavericks to his home country of Slovenia to watch the young superstar sign the richest contract in club history. Steven Gerrard has quickly lurched towards territory marked ‘crisis’. For the first time in his Rangers tenure, Gerrard has presided over three defeats in a row – this one ended their dreams of competing in the kampioen liga weereens. Wayne Rooney described Derby’s penalty shootout win over Salford in the Carabao Cup as his “proudest moment” as a manager.

If you can manage to get away to Europe, your money will be going a lot further than it has for a while after the pound hit an 18-month high against the euro yesterday. The rise followed data showing a dip in investor confidence in Europe’s largest economy, Duitsland, amid a surge in new coronavirus cases. Sterling topped out at €1.183 on Tuesday and although it dipped very slightly overnight it is likely to continue benefiting from the UK economy’s fast recovery from the pandemic. The pound was steady at $1.383, while the FTSE100 looks like lifting a touch this morning.

'Gap widens between private and state schools” – our Voog lead story in print today. A-level students have told the Guardian about the challenges of studying in a year disrupted by the pandemic and their experience of teacher-assessed grades. Here are the top five takeaways from this year’s unprecedented result outcomes among students in England – among findings, girls beating boys in maths and getting more A*s and As as well, and a doubling of A grades in 12 subjects since 2019.

Little sense in some quarters, wel, of it being due recompense for what these pupils have gone through during the pandemic. “Call for urgent A-levels overhaul as grades soar”, says the Times. Die Telegraph reports that “A-level grades could be scrapped to end top marks ‘free-for-all’” while the i looks ahead to 2022 with “Revealed: plan to fix A-level inflation”. The Guardian’s Richard Adams writes that next year the government cannot simply revert to the 2019-style system. “This year’s sixth formers had pre-pandemic GCSEs to show employers and admissions officers. Die 2022 A-level candidates won’t even have that. Their GCSE grades were awarded during Williamson’s 2020 debacle and over the past 18 months they have endured all the chaos of pandemic lockdowns and burst bubbles. Next year’s sixth formers deserve a break just as much as this year’s did.

Die Daily Mail leads with the “grade gap” too but most of its front page points to coverage inside of the allegations in a US court case against Prince Andrew. Of the latter, die Metro says “Enough to make a duke sweat”. Die Express has “‘Super scans’ give hope in dementia battle” which is about artificial intelligence being used to spot warning signs. “Strictly hit by jitter bug” – that’s the Sun on one of the show’s professional dancers testing positive for Covid, sending cast and crew into isolation. And in the Financial Times: “Biden buoyed by Senate backing for £1tn infrastructure package”.

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