Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: Employment falls, exam failures and a roundabout rigmarole

15 August 2020

9:00 AM

15 August 2020

9:00 AM


In fine weather with calm seas, 565 migrants in four days crossed the Channel in small craft. French officials said that 33 migrants in two boats that got into difficulty had been returned to Calais. In July more than 1,000 migrants crossed the Channel. Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, appointed Dan O’Mahoney as Britain’s Clandestine Channel Threat Commander, tasked with somehow making such voyages ‘unviable’. Employment fell by 220,000 in the three months to June, the biggest quarterly fall since 2009, but unemployment remained at about 3.9 per cent, as millions stayed on the furlough scheme.

At the beginning of the week, Sunday 9 August, total deaths from Covid-19 stood at 46,566, with a seven-day average of 53 deaths a day. Figures for England included all who had ever been suspected of Covid-19; those in Scotland were limited to those who had been diagnosed within 28 days of death. The test and trace programme was reorganised with 6,000 fewer telephone operatives and more local agents. Belgium, the Bahamas and Andorra were suddenly added to the countries from which anyone entering Britain would have to undergo 14 days’ quarantine; eyes were then on France. Preston had restrictions imposed after 61 new cases were detected in the seven days to 4 August, 28 of them said to be among people aged under 30. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, said that ‘now that we know enough to reopen schools to all pupils safely, we have a moral duty to do so’ in September. A concentric triple roundabout in Cambridge for cars, bicycles and pedestrians was closed shortly after its opening when a driver hit a Belisha beacon and drove off.

Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, apologised about school examination results because the Scottish government ‘did not get it right’ when 75,000 pupils (unable to sit exams because of the coronavirus outbreak) saw their estimated mark downgraded; then the government upgraded them again. England soon found itself in a similar quandary. Lord Hall of Birkenhead, the director-general of the BBC, apologised for a news bulletin that had quoted the so-called N-word in reporting a racist incident; DJ Sideman had resigned from BBC Radio 1Xtra in protest.


The total number in the world who had died with coronavirus was 728,796 by the beginning of the week; a week earlier it had been 688,018. Deaths in Brazil exceeded 100,000, although its deaths per million population were at 473 (compared with Britain’s 686). In Auckland everyone except essential workers was required to work from home after New Zealand reported its first locally transmitted case of Covid-19 in 102 days. At least ten patients died in a fire at a temporary Covid hospital in a hotel at Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. Russia gave regulatory approval to its own coronavirus vaccine after less than two months of testing on humans. President Vladimir Putin of Russia said that one of his daughters had been vaccinated with it.

The government of Lebanon resigned after it was established that the explosion at Beirut’s docks (which killed more than 200 people — with 110 missing — wounded 6,000 and left more than 300,000 homeless) was caused by 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate stored there since 2014 when it had been unloaded from an impounded cargo ship, the MV Rhosus. Public demonstrations denounced ruling corruption. In Belarus crowds repeatedly demonstrated after President Alexander Lukashenko claimed 80 per cent of the vote in elections; the opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, fled the country for Lithuania. Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, named Kamala Harris, the California senator of Indian-Jamaican heritage, as his running mate. The former king Juan Carlos of Spain, having left the country, was photographed getting off a private jet in Abu Dhabi, where Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan is a friend. A black bear filmed sniffing a woman’s hair at Chipinque Ecological Park in Mexico was caught and castrated.

Jimmy Lai, aged 71, the owner of the Apple Daily newspaper in Hong Kong, was arrested under the new security laws imposed by China. In an attempt to facilitate peace talks, the Loya Jirga in Afghanistan approved the release of 400 Taleban prisoners accused of ‘major’ crimes. In Niger, six French aid workers intent on seeing giraffes were shot dead, along with their local guide and driver, by men on motorcycles in an area where Boko Haram operates. CSH

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