Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: A-level chaos, quarantine confusion and revolution

22 August 2020

9:00 AM

22 August 2020

9:00 AM

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The government seemed to be taken strangely unaware by the frenzy of recrimination that came its way when results were announced from a system put in place as a substitute for A-levels, cancelled in March. Schools had been told to present teachers’ assessments, to which Ofqual applied an algorithm supposed to iron out anomalies. Almost 40 per cent of teachers’ assessments were downgraded, but even so the proportion of A and A* grades was higher than ever. Yet anomalies abounded, and schools that had performed less well in recent years saw bright pupils penalised; black children and those from poor backgrounds were said to be hard hit. While candidates lamented lost places at medical school, the government did nothing. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, packed for a holiday in Scotland. At last, Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, posed for the cameras with his resolute coffee mug and announced that teachers’ assessments would be accepted after all, which threw universities and candidates into new spasms of uncertainty. ‘My focus is making sure youngsters get the grades that they deserve,’ he said when invited to resign.

Travellers from France, Holland, Monaco, Malta, the Turks and Caicos Islands and Aruba in the Leeward Antilles were obliged at two days’ notice to go into quarantine; there had been a rush for the Channel Tunnel and ferries before the deadline of 4 a.m. on 15 August. At the beginning of the week, Sunday 16 August, total UK deaths from Covid-19 stood at 41,361. This was fewer than a week earlier, when the total was 46,566, because the criterion for judging a death to be attributable to coronavirus had changed. Deaths in England no longer counted if they took place more than 28 days after a first positive laboratory-confirmed test. This brought England into line with the other nations of the United Kingdom. By 16 August, the seven-day average of deaths in the United Kingdom was 13 per day. A house at Gorton, Manchester, was closed to visitors for three months after police broke up a party for 200. Waheed’s Buffet and Banqueting Hall in Blackburn was ordered to close for a month after police were called to a wedding reception for 100 people.


Marks & Spencer is to cut 7,000 jobs over the next three months; it had seen sales of clothes and home equipment fall in its stores in the eight weeks since they reopened by 47.9 per cent, but rise by 39.2 per cent online. Pizza Express is to close 73 of its 454 outlets. EasyJet will close its bases at Stansted, Southend and Newcastle, and Ryanair will cut capacity by 20 per cent in September and October. More than three million self-employed people became eligible for a payment of up to £6,570 each, which Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said would be their final handout. The Chancellor’s burger dole, by which people could save half the price of a meal (up to £10), was taken 35 million times in a fortnight. Sajid Javid, the former chancellor, took a part-time job with JPMorgan. Julian Bream, the classical guitarist, died aged 87.

Abroad

The total number of people in the world who had died with coronavirus was 772,753 by the beginning of the week; a week earlier it had been 728,796. France is to make face masks compulsory in shared offices and factories from 1 September. Bill Morneau resigned as the finance minister of Canada and was replaced by the deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland.

Workers at a tractor factory in Minsk booed President Alexander Lukashenko, the ruler of Belarus. ‘We held the election. Until you kill me, there will be no other election,’ he said. On Sunday, thousands demonstrated in support of the president, but perhaps 100,000 people demonstrated against him, many outraged by the brutality of security forces who had arrested some 6,700 people. Near Bamako, mutinying soldiers arrested President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta of Mali, who then resigned.

Judges at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (backed by the UN and based in Holland) found Salim Ayyash guilty of a central role in the bomb attack in Beirut in 2005 that killed Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister. Ayyash, tried in absentia, was a member of the armed group Hezbollah. The makers of the computer game Fortnite sued Apple over percentage fees and exclusivity. Robert Trump, the younger brother of President Donald Trump, died aged 71. In a heatwave in America a temperature of 129.9ºF was recorded at Death Valley, California. CSH

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