Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: Panic buying, Budget announcements and farewell to Harry and Meghan

14 March 2020

9:00 AM

14 March 2020

9:00 AM


At the beginning of the week 319 people in the United Kingdom had been found to be suffering from the coronavirus Covid-19, with five deaths by Monday evening; by the next day there were another 54 cases and another death. Of the total, 91 were in London. Testing was extended to anyone hospitalised with a respiratory tract infection. Nadine Dorries, a health minister, caught the virus. Shares in London fell by 7.8 per cent on Monday, like those in other European exchanges, then bounced back a little. Supermarkets were allowed to receive deliveries in the dead of night to avoid shortages. There was a curious tendency to panic-buy lavatory paper.

The Bank of England announced an emergency cut in interest rates from 0.75 per cent to 0.25 per cent, in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The first Budget of the new Chancellor Rishi Sunak was overshadowed by the coronavirus outbreak. Provisions were made to ease cash flow for small businesses. Duty on booze was frozen and tax on gas raised. A huge programme of infrastructure spending was outlined. A Chinese company, the Jingye Group, bought British Steel, securing the jobs of 3,000 workers at Scunthorpe and Teesside for the time being. A group of Conservative MPs led by Sir Iain Duncan Smith failed to defeat in Parliament the placing of 5G mobile phone technology in the hands of the Chinese company Huawei. Alex Salmond, aged 65, the former leader of the Scottish National Party and the First Minister of Scotland from 2007 to 2014, went on trial in Edinburgh on 14 sexual assault charges against ten women, one including an attempted rape, all of which he denies. Trevor Phillips, the first chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, was suspended from the Labour party while it considered whether things he had said in the past were Islamophobic. The United Kingdom will leave the European Union Aviation Safety Agency at the end of the year, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, announced. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex performed their last royal duty before leaving for Canada, where they had left their infant son Archie.


The number of coronavirus cases worldwide totalled more than 107,000 at the beginning of the week, with about 3,600 deaths. China reported only 40 new cases on Monday. The whole of Italy was put under quarantine with restrictions on internal travel, after deaths had risen to 463 and the number of cases to 9,172. Public Masses were suspended even in Rome, but the Pope called on priests to have ‘the courage to go out and visit the sick’. Austria banned Italians from entering the country. Iran confirmed 6,566 cases and 194 deaths, although the true figure was feared to be much higher. About 3,000 pilgrims returning on foot from Iran had been quarantined for two weeks at Taftan on the Pakistan border with no provision for shelter or food. In the United States, cases rose above 500. The Spanish parliament suspended its work when an MP for the Vox party contracted the coronavirus fever. Brent oil futures plunged from $50 a barrel on the Friday of last week to $31.14 on Monday morning. The fall followed a failed plan among producers to reduce production in response to the coronavirus crisis. Russia, the biggest producer among them, refused, at which Saudi Arabia announced that it would increase supplies. On the New York stock market, trading was halted for 15 minutes after shares fell on the worst day of trading since 2008. Joe Biden consolidated his position as front-runner in the race to become the Democratic candidate for the American presidential election.

About 35,000 migrants massed on the Greek border with Turkey, unable to enter Greece. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission and Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, held talks in Brussels with president Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who said that the European Union had failed to keep its side of the bargain to pay Turkey for looking after millions of refugees from the Syrian civil war. The EU said it would take in up to 1,500 unaccompanied children living in terrible conditions in camps near the border. In Saudi Arabia, the crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, arrested Prince Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz, the only full brother of King Salman, and Mohammed bin Nayef, who was heir to the throne until ousted by Prince Mohammed. The Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, was deposed by the state governor. CSH

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