Portrait of the week

Portrait of the year: Coronavirus, falling statues, banned Easter eggs and compulsory Scotch eggs

19 December 2020

9:00 AM

19 December 2020

9:00 AM


Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, signed the EU withdrawal agreement, sent from Brussels by train. Sajid Javid, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, promised ‘an infrastructure revolution’ in the Budget. An American drone killed Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard commander, near Baghdad airport. Iran carelessly shot down a Ukrainian airliner taking off from Tehran, killing 176. Bush fires raged in New South Wales. Cases of acute viral pneumonia were noticed in Wuhan in central China.


Eighty-three British evacuees from Wuhan were quarantined on the Wirral. The Department of Health classified Covid-19 as a ‘serious and imminent threat’. In Hubei 68 million people were made to stay at home. A field hospital for 1,000 was built in Wuhan in nine days. The Diamond Princess cruise ship was quarantined in Yokohama, with 3,711 on board; 700 eventually caught Covid-19 and 14 died. Rishi Sunak became Chancellor when Sajid Javid resigned rather than see his special advisers sacked. Carrie Symonds, aged 31, Boris Johnson’s girlfriend, announced she would have a baby. After the State of the Union address by President Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker, stood behind him tearing it up.


When ten people were known to have died of Covid-19, the Prime Minister said that families would ‘lose loved ones before their time’. No one could leave their homes except for ‘very limited purposes’. Shops were closed, with exceptions, and places of worship. Some police tried to stop the sale of Easter eggs. Boris Johnson contracted the disease, as did the Prince of Wales, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the government’s chief medical adviser Chris Whitty, and Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s chief strategist. Plans were made to supply 1.5 million vulnerable people with food, with uneven success. Rishi Sunak announced a furlough scheme. Local elections were postponed to 2021. Japanese shoppers set a trend for buying up lavatory paper. Nepal closed Mount Everest. At Ambridge, the Bull remained open.


Boris Johnson was in intensive care amid fears for his life. Few shops still open accepted cash. Railway termini were silent. A cargo of 84 tons of PPE from Turkey was delayed, then found to be of little use. Sir Keir Starmer was elected leader of the Labour party. Captain Tom Moore raised £27 million for NHS charities by walking round his garden 100 times before his 100th birthday. Unemployment rose by 856,500 to 2.1 million; in the United States it reached 30 million. Border Force intercepted 72 migrants in the Channel. By mid-April 4.5 billion people were living under restrictions. The High Court of Australia quashed Cardinal George Pell’s conviction for abusing two boys in the 1990s. Krakatoa erupted.


The government changed the slogan ‘Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives’ to ‘Stay alert. Control the virus. Save lives’. Boris Johnson said: ‘We can now see the sunlight and the pasture ahead of us.’ He refused to sack Dominic Cummings, for driving his wife and little son to a place of isolation in Co Durham. Britain recorded the most deaths in Europe. In Panama, men and women were locked down on alternate days, and transgender people complained of being allowed out on neither. Riots hit America after a black man, George Floyd, was seen on video dying when a policeman knelt on his neck, though he said: ‘I can’t breathe.’ China introduced a security law for Hong Kong. Sixteen migrant workers walking to Aurangabad slept on a railway track and were run over by a train.


on-essential’ shops reopened. Boris Johnson said he was ‘as fit as a butcher’s dog’. Numbers furloughed reached 8.9 million. Public debt rose to £1,950 billion, greater than GDP for the first time since 1963. Demonstrators in London chanted ‘Black lives matter’. In Bristol a statue of Edward Colston, a philanthropist implicated in the slave trade, was thrown into the harbour. Guy’s Hospital decided to remove its founder’s statue. The footballer Marcus Rashford made the government continue school meal vouchers over the summer. Holland culled 10,000 mink infected with coronavirus.


Boris Johnson hoped for a ‘return to normality’ by Christmas. Hairdressers and churches reopened for business. People had to wear face coverings in shops in England. The Queen knighted Tom Moore outdoors at Windsor. Among 36 new peers were Jo Johnson, the Prime Minister’s brother; Charles Moore, a former editor of The Spectator; the cricketer Sir Ian Botham; and Gisela Stuart, Kate Hoey and Frank Field, independent-minded former Labour MPs. In July more than 1,000 migrants crossed the Channel. The government banned phone providers from buying Huawei 5G equipment. President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil contracted Covid-19. Turkey turned Hagia Sophia back into a mosque. Aragon culled 92,700 mink.


The ‘eat out to help out’ scheme saw 160 million meals eaten at up to a 50 per cent discount. In Lancashire and West Yorkshire 2.7 million were more tightly restricted on the eve of Eid al-Adha. Piers Corbyn, Jeremy’s elder brother, was given a £10,000 penalty after a rally in Trafalgar Square against the Coronavirus Act. Chaos over A-levels ended in teachers’ assessments being accepted. In August at least 1,468 migrants crossed the Channel. The former King of Spain, Juan Carlos, left the country. In Beirut, 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded, causing damage for miles and killing dozens. In Belarus crowds demonstrated each Sunday against President Alexander Lukashenko’s claimed election victory. The Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, was poisoned with Novichok at Tomsk airport and recovered in Berlin.


People were banned from leaving Caerphilly without a ‘reasonable excuse’. Gatherings in England were limited to six people. Pubs closed at 10 o’clock. Extinction Rebellion blockaded newspaper presses. Leighton Buzzard suffered four small earthquakes in a fortnight. Mr Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Armenia and Azerbaijan fought over Nagorno-Karabakh. Wildfires burnt more of California than ever before. Peru’s Covid death rate approached one in 1,000.


More than a million in the world had died of Covid-19. English regions were put into three tiers; days of wrangling with Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, followed. Wales held a 17-day ‘firebreak’; Scotland imposed five levels of restrictions. At Halloween the government announced a lockdown on England until 2 December. Mr Trump spent four days in hospital with Covid-19. A man, a woman and two children drowned when a migrant boat sank off Dunkirk. A schoolteacher in France was beheaded after showing his class cartoons of Mohammed.


Pfizer and BioNTech announced a Covid-19 vaccine, Moderna another, and AstraZeneca a cheaper, more easily stored vaccine developed by the University of Oxford. In England’s new four-week lockdown, pubs could sell alcohol to take away but churches could not hold services. Denmark killed 17 million mink. Dominic Cummings left Downing Street. Jeremy Corbyn was readmitted to the Labour party. Joe Biden won the US presidential election, though his electoral college majority was small and slow to establish; ‘This is a fraud on the American public,’ Mr Trump said. In Hong Kong, 15 opposition politicians walked out of the legislative assembly after four members were expelled by China. Russia imposed an end to fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh.


Vaccination against Covid-19 began. More than 1,600,000 people in the world had died from the disease. In England the 30 million people under Tier 2 coronavirus restrictions were permitted to buy drink in a pub with a ‘substantial meal’, taken to mean a Scotch egg. The insoluble question of Northern Ireland’s trade with the EU was solved overnight. Talks on a UK trade agreement with the EU broke successive deadlines in a most provoking manner. The year’s total of migrants found in the Channel passed 8,000. The number of African migrants reaching the Canary Islands passed 20,000. China collected 2kg of rock from the Moon. Competitive breakdancing was scheduled for the 2024 Olympics, in Paris. CSH

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