Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: Storms rage, Covid curbs end and Russia’s ‘renewed invasion’

26 February 2022

9:00 AM

26 February 2022

9:00 AM

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Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, announced, in the House of Commons, sanctions against Russia after its ‘renewed invasion’ of Ukraine. These included the freezing of five banks’ assets and those of three Russian billionaires (Gennady Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg and his nephew Igor Rotenberg). The price of Brent crude oil reached a seven-year high of $99.38. A day earlier, the Prime Minister had told parliament that all coronavirus restrictions in England were to end on 24 February. People who tested positive for Covid would no longer be required by law to self-isolate, but would still be advised to stay at home. The £500 isolation payment for people on low incomes would also end but Covid provisions for increased statutory sick pay would apply for a further month. Free mass testing would stop from 1 April; Boots started selling tests for £5.99. The requirement remained for those arriving from abroad to complete passenger locator forms. An additional booster dose, their fourth vaccination, would be offered to the most vulnerable over-12s and to those over 75 this spring. Scotland decided to lift all legal restrictions on 21 March.

The Queen caught Covid, ‘experiencing mild cold-like symptoms’; Buckingham Palace said she would ‘continue light duties at Windsor’. After the statement, the Queen sent her ‘warmest congratulations’ to the British women’s curling team on winning a medal (Britain’s only gold) at the Winter Olympics, a day after the men’s curling team won silver. In the seven days up to the beginning of this week, 989 people had died with coronavirus, bringing total deaths (within 28 days of testing positive) to 160,507. (In the previous week, deaths had numbered 1,275.) Numbers with Covid remaining in hospital fell from about 12,000 to about 11,400.


Government finances showed a surplus of £2.9 billion in January as tax receipts improved; because of inflation, interest payments reached £6.1 billion, the highest January amount since records began in April 1997. Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, met Maros Sefcovic, the Vice-President of the European Commission, in Brussels and they agreed to continue talks about the Northern Ireland protocol. A succession of storms raged over Britain, leaving a hole in the Millennium Dome and floods beside several rivers such as the Severn at Ironbridge, Shropshire. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, had told everyone to stay at home for a day in case something fell on them.

Abroad

President Vladimir Putin of Russia recognised as independent states the Moscow-backed Donetsk and Luhansk breakaway territories of Ukraine and Russian troops were ordered in, under the guise of peacekeeping. He gave a rambling hour-long speech on television asserting that ‘Ukraine never had a tradition of genuine statehood’, but that its people were ‘bound by blood, by family ties’ to Russia. Ukraine (which gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994) was planning, he claimed later, to ‘create its own nuclear weapons’. ‘This is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine,’ President Joe Biden of America said. ‘Who in the Lord’s name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belongs to his neighbours?’ As part of economic sanctions in response, Germany halted the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia. Romania offered to take in half a million refugees, but Hungary deployed troops along its 85 mile border.

To end a demonstration by lorry-drivers after 24 days, Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, used the Emergencies Act, giving the government the power to freeze bank accounts of protestors; they had blocked streets in Ottawa in protest against mandatory Covid vaccinations. Hong Kong’s government ordered the compulsory testing of all its 7.5 million citizens. Australia opened its borders to fully vaccinated tourists. The total in the world reported to have died with coronavirus reached 5,900,480 by the beginning of the week.

The parliament in Mali approved a plan allowing the military junta to rule for up to five years; France withdrew troops after nine years. During a wedding ceremony in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, 13 people died after falling into a well. The New York Timesput up posters suggesting its readers liked to imagine Harry Potter without J.K. Rowling. Donald Trump launched a social media platform, Truth Social. CSH

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