Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: Europe’s vaccine wars, a beached walrus and Sturgeon survives

27 March 2021

9:00 AM

27 March 2021

9:00 AM


The nation was surprised to learn that from 29 March there would be a dearth of vaccine for a month. More than half the adult population had been vaccinated once, and more than 4 per cent twice. In one day 589,675 people received their first vaccine, including Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, and the next day 752,308 first doses were given. But five million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from India were delayed and the EU was making hostile noises about banning exports to Britain. The government considered making vaccination compulsory for people working in care homes, a quarter of whom had not been vaccinated. Commenting on rising numbers with coronavirus on the Continent, the Prime Minister said: ‘When a wave hits our friends, I’m afraid it washes up on our shores as well.’ Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said that it was ‘too early to tell’ when holidays abroad would be allowed. A statutory instrument was introduced to criminalise travel out of the realm. At dawn on 21 March, total UK deaths (within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus) had stood at 126,122, including 658 in the past week; on 22 March only 17 deaths were reported. The steroid dexamethasone had saved 22,000 lives in the UK and a million around the world, according to a large-scale drug trial. A walrus settled on rocks in Pembrokeshire.

Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, survived a Scottish parliamentary vote of no confidence after a special committee of MSPs found by five votes to four that she had given a misleading account to them of her handling of the Alex Salmond scandal, and there had been a ‘potential breach’ of the ministerial code. The day before, an independent inquiry by James Hamilton QC found she had not broken the ministerial code. A fiery meteor was seen by day over Dorset, Somerset and Devon, and many reported a noise like a sonic boom.

In a street protest in Bristol called Kill the Bill, 20 police were injured when 500 people attacked a much smaller number of police, set fire to their vehicles and smashed police station windows. The notional object of the protest was to oppose the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which would give police more powers to limit demonstrations; the Mayor of Bristol accused some rioters of ‘living out their revolutionary fantasies’. The army is to be reduced to 72,500 soldiers by 2025 under a defence review that set store by drones and cyber warfare. A review of diversity policies was begun at Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Kensington Palace.


The total in the world who had died with coronavirus reached 2,717,518 by the beginning of the week. The United States surpassed its target of 100 million vaccinations within 100 days of the inauguration of President Joe Biden, reaching it on the 59th day. In Miami Beach, police declared a state of emergency when crowds smashed up restaurants and fought in the street. In Marseille 6,000 people crowded the streets in a sort of carnival. Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany was in ‘a new pandemic’; ‘Essentially, we have a new virus,’ she said, referring to the UK variant. ‘It is much deadlier, much more infectious and infectious for much longer.’

Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, said: ‘We have the option of banning a planned export. That’s the message to AstraZeneca: you fulfil your contract with Europe first before you start supplying to other countries.’ Most EU countries that had suspended use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine restored it to use again after a report by the European Medicines Agency dismissing health risks, though France said only people aged 55 and over should be given it. A US study found the AstraZeneca vaccine 100 per cent effective against severe disease. Katherine Diaz, training to represent El Salvador in surfing at the Tokyo Olympics, was struck by lightning.

US immigration officials were left holding 15,500 unaccompanied children in custody. The United States, European Union, United Kingdom and Canada imposed sanctions on some senior Chinese officials held responsible for abuses against Uighurs. Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, aged 21, was arrested after ten people were shot dead at a grocer’s in Boulder, Colorado. In Niger 137 villagers were killed by jihadis. Abu Dhabi was reported to have agreed to invest billions in British health, tech, green energy and infrastructure. Floods swept eastern Australia. CSH

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