The Spectator

Portrait of the week: Face masks in schools, vegan nuggets in Burger King and Big Ben bongs again

Portrait of the week: Face masks in schools, vegan nuggets in Burger King and Big Ben bongs again
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The warmest New Year’s Day on record saw a temperature of 16.3˚C (61.3˚F) in St James’s Park, London. A restored Big Ben rang in the new year for the first time in four years. Boris Johnson,the Prime Minister, announced he would soldier on with Plan B against coronavirus. The government, he said, had identified 100,000 critical workers to receive daily lateral flow tests. Some people would be treated at home in 2,500 ‘virtual beds’. Covid was widespread, thanks to the Omicron variant. In the seven days up to the beginning of this week, 911 people had died with coronavirus (compared with 858 in a week a month earlier), bringing total deaths (within 28 days of testing positive) to 148,778. Hospitals were stretched by staff absence, but in London Covid hospitalisations fell. Children in secondary schools were obliged to wear face coverings in class. Interest rates were at 0.25 per cent after the Bank of England had raised them from 0.1 per cent, the first increase in three years, against an annual rate of inflation of 5.1 per cent.

Southern Railway suspended until 10 January all its services to and from Victoria station in London because of staff absence through Covid. Other railways also cut services. The number of people to have crossed the English Channel in small boats in 2021 was found to be 28,431, treble the number for 2020. The Nationwide building society, unable to cope with the volume of payments at the beginning of the year, introduced a queuing system. Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary, said a law would be passed against photographing women breastfeeding. Burger King began selling vegan nuggets.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, made a speech in front of two Union flags. He was then isolated with Covid for the second time. Tony Blair was made a Knight of the Order of the Garter (whose members are chosen personally by the Queen) in the new year honours. Frank Field (Lord Field of Birkenhead) was appointed a Companion of Honour, as was Sir Paul Nurse. Chris Whitty, Patrick Vallance and Jonathan Van-Tam were knighted. Joanna Lumley became a dame, as did Vanessa Redgrave. Jason Kenny was made a knight and his wife Laura a dame for bicycling very fast in Tokyo.


The United States detected more than a million new cases of Covid a day and France more than 200,000. The Chinese city of Xi’an, population 13 million, was locked down for ten days after 1,451 local symptomatic cases of Covid had been detected since 9 December. The 2,844 passengers in a German cruise ship, the AIDAnova, bound for Madeira, were allowed to disembark at Lisbon after five days moored there while cases aboard multiplied. Australians experienced Covid test delays as Omicron cases rose above 25,000 a day. Novak Djokovic obtained a medical exemption in order to enter Australia without quarantining, to play in the tennis Open despite having refused to reveal his vaccination status.

North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the sea. Abdalla Hamdok resigned as the civilian prime minister of Sudan, returning the country to military rule amid street protests. Kazakhstan declared a state of emergency in the face of protests against fuel price rises. A wildfire devastated 6,000 acres of Boulder County, Colorado, destroying at least 1,000 homes and businesses. Fire destroyed the National Assembly, the lower chamber of South Africa’s parliament, in Cape Town, a day after the funeral of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who had died aged 90. In France, 874 cars were set alight during new year celebrations. The government of France flew a large EU flag in place of its own from the Arc de Triomphe to mark the country’s EU presidency, but took it down after two days of criticism.

Trading in shares in the debt-burdened Chinese property developer Evergrande was suspended for a day; its sales for 2021 had plunged 39 per cent from the year before. Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the Theranos company, was convicted of fraud in California for lying about machines she said could detect diseases from a few drops of blood. Ghislaine Maxwell prepared an appeal against her conviction in a New York court on charges of procuring teenage girls to be abused by the late Jeffrey Epstein. Prince Andrew asked a New York court to dismiss a civil case against him on the grounds of an agreement made by the plaintiff, Virginia Giuffre, with Epstein. In Santiago, Chile, beekeepers seeking support during a drought blocked a street with hives. CSH