Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: Unemployment up, bathers banned and Corbyn’s brother arrested

23 May 2020

9:00 AM

23 May 2020

9:00 AM


The United Kingdom seemed reluctant to come out of its lockdown. ‘We are likely to face a severe recession, the likes of which we haven’t seen,’ said Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Unemployment rose by 856,500 in April to 2.1 million. More than two million claims had been made for the grant scheme for self-employed people. The government was estimated to be paying ten million of the UK’s 27.5 million private-sector workers. At quiet railway stations, wardens supposedly trained in crowd control stood around talking to each other. Police in England and Wales issued 14,444 fixed penalty notices for breach of the coronavirus regulations up to 11 May; one person was fined nine times. Piers Corbyn, the elder brother of Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader, was among 19 arrested at a demonstration at Speakers’ Corner; ‘5G towers will be installed everywhere,’ he said through a megaphone. The Old Bailey began its first new jury trial during the emergency. Police arrested 27 men and boys aged between 16 and 57 in connection with online child sexual exploitation in Bradford. The City of London Corporation banned bathing in Highgate Ponds lest its lifeguards be asked to resuscitate bathers carrying coronavirus.

At the beginning of the week, on 17 May, the number of coronavirus deaths in the UK stood at 34,636; a week earlier it had been 31,587. The rate of fatalities and admissions to hospitals had slowed markedly. A Cambridge study showed that the R number, indicating the number of people each Covid-19 sufferer infects, was about 0.4 in London but 0.8 in the North-East and Yorkshire. Anyone aged five or more with symptoms was now eligible to be tested for coronavirus, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said. AstraZeneca agreed to manufacture a vaccine if trials of one developed by Oxford University proved successful. Tom Moore, the centenarian who has raised more than £32 million for NHS charities, is to be knighted.

EasyJet admitted that email addresses of nine million customers had been stolen by hackers; 2,208 customers had been told that credit card details had also been taken. The government said it would not exempt people coming from France from a proposed 14-day quarantine, apart from lorry-drivers. Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, said the quarantine was ‘idiotic and unimplementable’. The immigration bill, intended to bring in a ‘points-based system’, had its second reading in the Commons. Six boats carrying 90 migrants were intercepted off the Kent coast on 16 May, bringing to more than 900 the number picked up since 23 March. Kent county council said it had 450 child migrants in its care at the end of April. Because of the pandemic, Eurotunnel and cross-channel ferry operators are to be given £35 million in support.


The world had seen 312,902 coronavirus deaths by the beginning of 17 May; a week earlier the number had been 278,516. Italy and Spain reported daily fatalities of fewer than 100. Italy reopened churches for worship and restaurants, with distancing measures. Denmark reopened cafés with a distancing space reduced from two to one metre. More than 122 million people were reported to have lost their jobs in India in April. Qatar imposed a penalty of three years in prison for not wearing a face mask in public. In Panama, where the lockdown allows men and women out on alternate days, transgender people complained of not being allowed out on either day.

President Donald Trump of the United States (where deaths from Covid-19 rose above 90,000) said that he was taking hydroxychloroquine to ward off coronavirus, despite public health officials warning of its dangerous side-effects. More than 100,000 cruise ship workers around the world were believed to be stranded at sea. A dozen supercomputers in Europe, including the Archer supercomputer at the University of Edinburgh, were shut down when hackers apparently tried to take them over to mine cryptocurrency.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron’s party lost its overall majority when seven deputies broke away to form a new party. In Israel a unity government was sworn in, with Benjamin Netanyahu serving as Prime Minister and Benny Gantz as his deputy for another 18 months, before they swap. China’s ambassador to Israel, Du Wei, was found dead in his apartment north of Tel Aviv. Scuffles broke out in the Legislative Council in Hong Kong as it prepared to consider a bill to criminalise disrespect for the Chinese national anthem. CSH

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