The Spectator

Portrait of the week: New year, new lockdown

Portrait of the week: New year, new lockdown
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Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, announced harsher coronavirus restrictions in England, resembling those last March, except that bubbles continued. People must work from home if they could; schools were closed and this year’s exams cancelled. Another £4 billion was directed to businesses in retail, hospitality and leisure. At Westminster, parliament was recalled. In Scotland, golf courses remained open and churches were closed. In England, churches remained open and golf courses closed. The actions came in response to a sharp rise in Covid infections, many from a variant virus. One in 50 were estimated to have the disease. At first, 44 million in England were put under newly-invented Tier 4 restrictions, but hospitalisations increased. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was authorised. Vaccinations began slowly, but 1.3 million were given by 5 January. Retired doctors were prevented from vaccinating unless they underwent ‘diversity’ training. The government suddenly decided to give the two parts of the Oxford and the Pfizer vaccines 12 weeks apart, instead of the 21 days stipulated by Pfizer. At the beginning of the week, Sunday 3 January, total deaths (within 28 days of testing positive for the coronavirus) had stood at 74,570, including 4,134 in the past week. Margaret Ferrier MP, a suspended member of the Scottish National party, was charged in connection with an alleged breach of coronavirus regulations in September. Police broke up a rave held after people had broken into All Saints’ Church, East Horndon, Essex. Three Spurs players went to an illegal party. Gerry Marsden of Gerry and the Pacemakers, known for their recording of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, adopted by Liverpool football club, died aged 78.

The year had begun with the United Kingdom in possession of a trade agreement with the European Union after months of frustration; parliament passed a bill bringing it into law. Seed potato producers were unhappy. Fishermen were sold halfway down the river as expected. Travel to Europe might have been difficult if coronavirus had not made it impossible. Stanley Johnson, the Prime Minister’s father, said that he was applying for French citizenship. Of 1,239 people in the New Year Honours, 397 received a BEM and 476 an MBE; 14.2 per cent were categorised as ‘Bame’, the government said, and 4 per cent identified themselves as LGBT+. Lewis Hamilton, the racing driver, was knighted.

A District Judge rejected an application by the United States to extradite Julian Assange on charges of publishing thousands of classified documents, thus endangering lives; an American prison, she said, could ‘not prevent Mr Assange from finding a way to commit suicide’. The Boundary Commission began to redraw the 650 UK constituencies. The new boundaries might give the Conservatives an advantage of ten seats. Edinburgh Zoo, which leases two giant pandas from China at £1 million a year, may send them back because coronavirus lockdowns have cut admissions income.

Abroad

The total number in the world who have died with coronavirus reached 1,843,106 by the beginning of the week, an increase of 77,642 from the week before. South Africa was hit by a new variant of the virus. The United States has suffered more than 360,000 deaths, but its mortality per million, at 1,085, was lower than a dozen other countries, including the UK (1,108) and Belgium (1,696). France carried out only 516 vaccinations in a week. India made plans to vaccinate 300 million by July. China approved a vaccine developed by the state-owned Sinopharm. Jimmy Lai, the Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigner and businessman, was sent back to prison after a week under house-arrest on bail. Australia complained to the World Trade Organisation about China’s 80 per cent tariff on barley.

President Donald Trump of the United States was heard on a recording published by the Washington Post cajoling Brad Raffensperger, the Republican Secretary of State of Georgia, to overturn the presidential election result. ‘I just want to find 11,780 votes,’ Mr Trump said.

Iran resumed enriching uranium to 20 per cent purity, in breach of its agreement with world powers in 2015. Islamist militants attacked two villages in Niger, killing dozens of civilians. Two French soldiers countering Islamists in Mali were killed by an improvised explosive device. Twelve women became drivers on the Moscow metro after a ban was lifted. CSH