Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: Vaccine shots, Brexit stutters and a frosty reception for the royals

12 December 2020

9:00 AM

12 December 2020

9:00 AM


The Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine began, rather slowly, to be given to some old people in hospital and health workers. Margaret Keenan, 90, was the first outside clinical trials to receive it. At the beginning of the week, Sunday 6 December, total deaths (within 28 days of testing positive for the coronavirus) had stood at 61,014, including 2,771 in the past week; the number for the week before was 3,617. Rita Ora, the singer, a week after apologising for entertaining 30 people at a birthday party on the ‘spur of the moment’, remembered to apologise for not having gone into quarantine at the time, after returning from Egypt. England’s cricket tour of South Africa was abandoned after a South Africa player and two hotel staff tested positive for coronavirus. A ton of cocaine was found hidden at the London Gateway port at Thurrock, on the Thames, in banana pulp from Colombia bound for Antwerp.

Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, booked a ticket for Brussels to have dinner with Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, after talks on trading relations with the European Union dragged on with a special kind of tedium bestowed by lack of information combined with unreliable briefing. Suddenly Britain and the EU said they agreed in principle over the trading position of Northern Ireland, so parts of the Internal Market Bill that would break international law were being dropped. Nando’s, the popular chicken restaurant, spent £20 million on anti-coronavirus measures at its 434 branches. Police broke up a nocturnal house party with 150 guests in Nottingham. Peter Alliss, the golfer and commentator, died aged 89. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge introduced three reindeer to children in Berwick during a three-day 1,250-mile tour of England, Scotland and Wales on the royal train. On their entering Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, remarked coldly: ‘We made sure that the royal household were aware, as you would expect, of the restrictions in place in Scotland.’

Derek Hatton, the 1980s Trotskyist Militant deputy leader of Liverpool City Council, was arrested on suspicion of witness intimidation at the same time that Joe Anderson, the mayor of Liverpool, was arrested by police investigating bribery. Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, aged 82, an Independent Ulster Unionist, was suspended from the House of Lords for 18 months for using bullying language to a security man and using homophobic language about some MPs whom he called queers; he was ordered by the Lords conduct committee to ‘undertake bespoke training and behaviour-change coaching’.


The total number in the world who had died with coronavirus reached 1,533,839 by the beginning of the week, an increase of 75,700 from the week before. Belgium had suffered 1,486 deaths per million, compared with 900 for the United Kingdom, a little ahead of the 870 in the United States, which had the highest simple total at more than 280,000 dead. President-elect Joe Biden set a goal of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office. Argentina imposed a tax on its richest 12,000 people to help pay for coronavirus costs. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who was president of France from 1974 to 1981, died of complications from Covid, aged 94. Russia began using its two-part Sputnik V vaccine. Thousands of fireworks exploded in the sky during a fire at a fireworks factory in Rostov-on-Don.

In Hong Kong, Jimmy Lai, the media tycoon and pro-democracy campaigner, aged 72, was charged with fraud and detained until a court hearing in April. Eight people were arrested in connection with a peaceful protest last month at the Chinese University campus in Hong Kong. The height of Mount Everest was agreed by China and Nepal to be 29,032ft; in 1856 it had been put at 29,002ft. Japan planned to increase its falling birth rate by funding matchmaking backed by AI.

President Nicolás Maduro’s party gained control of Venezuela’s national assembly after elections boycotted by the opposition. After seven weeks, a bush fire on Fraser Island, Queensland, had burnt 320 square miles. Uber dropped its plans for a self-driving car and made a deal with Aurora, an autonomous vehicle start-up. Bob Dylan, aged 79, sold the rights to his back catalogue to the American-based Universal Music Group for a sum said to be between $200 million and $450 million. Competitive breakdancing will form part of the 2024 Olympics, in Paris. CSH

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