Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: A political squall, sub-postmasters exonerated and India’s Covid crisis

1 May 2021

9:00 AM

1 May 2021

9:00 AM

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By the beginning of the week, 12,071,810 people had received both doses of coronavirus vaccine, and the proportion of the adult population with both soon rose to more than a quarter. In the seven days up to the beginning of the week, 159 people had died, bringing the total of deaths (within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus) to 127,417. Fares Maatou, aged 15, was fatally stabbed at half past four in the afternoon outside a pizza shop in Newham, east London. Anthony Thwaite, the poet and editor of Philip Larkin’s letters and poems, died aged 90.

A purely political squall blew up after Downing Street put it about that Dominic Cummings had leaked text messages from Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, to Sir James Dyson saying that he would remove tax penalties preventing people coming to Britain to produce ventilators at the height of the coronavirus outbreak. ‘I will fix it tomo. We need you,’ said one text. In response, Mr Cummings published a blog saying, first, that a friend of Carrie Symonds’s, the Prime Minister’s fiancée, was the leaker code-named Chatty Rat who in October had blown the gaff on lockdown; secondly, that Mr Johnson had tried to cancel an inquiry into the affair lest it upset Miss Symonds; thirdly, that he had told Mr Johnson that getting political supporters to pay for his wallpaper was ‘possibly illegal’. Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, told the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee that he would look into the matter; he thought Chatty Rat might never be revealed. The Daily Mail said that in October, when a second lockdown had been decided upon, Mr Johnson had said during a meeting at No. 10 that he would rather ‘let the bodies pile high in their thousands’ than lock down again. Mr Johnson denied saying this.


After the Appeal Court overturned 39 sub-postmasters’ convictions (based on faulty computer analysis) for stealing money, Paula Vennells, the former chief executive of the Post Office, relinquished two non-executive directorships and her position as a minister in the Church of England. More than 94 per cent of state school pupils were in class on 22 April. The City of London Corporation said that converting offices would add 1,500 homes by 2030 to the present 7,850 in the City. The 93,000 fixed penalties imposed for lockdown breaches in England and Wales should be reviewed, the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights said. A Commons motion declared that genocide was taking place against Uighurs in China. Democratic Unionists in the Northern Ireland Assembly were invited to register no confidence in their leader, Arlene Foster. Fire swept for days over the Mountains of Mourne in Co. Down.

Abroad

In India hospitals in cities such as Delhi were overwhelmed with Covid cases and some had no oxygen. The British government flew out consignments of 495 oxygen concentrators. The United States said it would let other countries use 60 million doses (as they become available) of its AstraZeneca vaccine, not yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Tests found that a tenth of the population of the United States had had Covid-19. The total in the world recorded to have died with coronavirus reached 3,105,014 by the beginning of the week. At least 82 people died in a fire at a hospital treating coronavirus patients in Baghdad after an oxygen tank exploded.

President Joe Biden of the United States said: ‘We remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide.’ The reference pleased many Armenians and annoyed the Turkish government. Mr Biden told a virtual summit on climate change that America would aim to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by between 50 per cent and 52 per cent by 2030, based on 2005 levels. Christa Ludwig, the mezzo-soprano opera and Lieder singer, died aged 93.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian charity worker jailed in Tehran in 2016, was sentenced to a further year after being found guilty of propaganda against the regime. Three Catholic priests kidnapped for ransom in Haiti on 11 April were released, but seven others in the group remained captive. A missing Indonesian navy submarine was found split into three on the sea bed off Bali, with the loss of all 53 crew. A shortage of computer chips continued while TSMC, the world’s largest contract chip-maker, invested £73 billion in a three-year expansion. CSH

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