Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: Hotel quarantine starts, Ribblehead Viaduct cracks and a royal guest for Oprah

20 February 2021

9:00 AM

20 February 2021

9:00 AM


The target was achieved of vaccinating, by the middle of February, about 15 million people of 70 or over, together with care home residents and workers, and the clinically extremely vulnerable. But there was concern that a substantial proportion of care home workers declined the vaccine. By 16 February, more than 20 per cent of the population had been given their first dose. At dawn on 14 February, total UK deaths (within 28 days of testing positive for the coronavirus) had stood at 116,908, including 4,861 in the past week. Over the previous week, the seven-day moving average of deaths had fallen to 688 a day from 932 a day. An extra 1.7 million people were added to the 2.3 million advised to shield, entitling them to earlier vaccination. The HS2 phase from West Midlands to Crewe was approved. Discovery of cracks in the 1,318ft Ribblehead Viaduct in North Yorkshire, currently encased in scaffolding, would add only a few days to its restoration, Network Rail said.

The government said it was deciding what to legalise after 22 February. Drinking a cup of coffee on a park bench was mentioned. Schools might start opening on 8 March. From 15 February, UK residents who arrived in England from one of 33 high-risk Covid countries had to isolate in a hotel for ten days at their own expense, set at £1,750 per person. The law compelling them was made through a statutory instrument (laid before parliament when it was not sitting) by the Health Secretary under the Public Health Act 1984; exercise outside the hotel room was permitted with the permission of a person (a security man) authorised by the Secretary of State. For falsifying the passenger locator form filled in by travellers arriving in the UK, a ten-year jail term threatened by the government turned out to rely on the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981.

Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, proposed a free-speech champion for universities, to sit on the board of the Office for Students. Sir William Macpherson, the judge who, in his report in 1997 on the death of Stephen Lawrence, found the Metropolitan Police to be permeated by institutional racism, died aged 94. Zuber and Mohsin Issa completed their acquisition of Asda, with the help of the investment company TDR Capital. The Democratic Unionist party proposed a law to prevent abortion up to term, which the United Kingdom government had imposed, for disabilities such as Down’s syndrome. The Duchess of Sussex announced that she was expecting a child and going on Oprah.


The total in the world who had died with coronavirus reached 2,404,441 by the beginning of the week, an increase of 85,437 from the week before. A court in The Hague ruled that a curfew against coronavirus from 9 p.m. to 4.30 a.m. breached the right to free movement. Deaths in India continued to decline. Deaths in the United States came close to half a million. Texas suffered power cuts amid temperatures of minus 18°C. At least 46 people were killed when a bus plunged into a canal in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

China banned BBC World News from broadcasting, and criticised its reporting on coronavirus and the Uyghurs. As protests against the military coup continued in Burmese cities, a charge of breaching natural disaster laws was brought against the imprisoned opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Carlos Menem, president of Argentina 1989-99, died aged 90. Princess Latifa Al Maktoum, a daughter of the ruler of Dubai, said in a video obtained by the BBC that she was being held against her will. The United Arab Emirates’ spacecraft Hope sent back pictures from its orbit around Mars.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, after 25 years at the World Bank and two spells as finance minister of Nigeria, was appointed Director-General of the World Trade Organisation. Bitcoin reached a high of more than $50,000, a rise of 75 per cent in 2021. Maros Sefcovic, Vice-President of the European Commission, speaking in Dublin, said: ‘We made the mistake, we acknowledged it, we corrected it’, referring to the invoking of Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to prevent vaccines being exported from the EU to Northern Ireland. Pro-independence parties won 74 of the 135 seats in the Catalan parliament; the right-wing Vox won 11 and the Popular party only three. A Catalan rapper, Pablo Hasel, was sentenced to nine months’ jail for promising bullets for right-wing politicians and a noose for the king. CSH

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