Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: Channel crossings, chain-gangs for criminals and Tesco Bank shuts up shop

31 July 2021

9:00 AM

31 July 2021

9:00 AM


The daily number of coronavirus cases detected by tests fell from 54,674 on 17 July to 23,511 by 27 July. About 92 per cent of adults in England and Wales had coronavirus antibodies at the beginning of July, according to an estimate by the Office for National Statistics. In the seven days up to the beginning of the week, 447 people had died with coronavirus, bringing the total of deaths (within 28 days of testing positive) to 129,130. (In the previous week deaths had numbered 284.) In a week, numbers remaining in hospital rose from 4,121 to 5,238. By the beginning of the week, 88 per cent of adults had accepted a first vaccination; 70.3 per cent had received two doses. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, said that students might have to prove vaccination to be let into lectures; Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said: ‘We need to be extremely careful that we don’t go from a Brussels-type democracy to a Beijing-type democracy.’ Dustmen and prison officers would be allowed to continue to work if ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid-19 app, but supermarkets complained that staff shortages provoked by pinging were leaving some shelves empty.

The government was looking at ways to exclude China General Nuclear, the Chinese state-owned nuclear energy company, from the building of Sizewell C nuclear power station in Suffolk, a project led by the French company EDF. Tesco Bank said it would close all its 213,000 current accounts by the end of November, having lost £175 million in April compared with a profit of £193 million in the previous 12 months. The government proposed curious methods of reducing crime such as by making prisoners released on licence wear ankle tags for a year to monitor the amount of alcohol in their sweat. As for those guilty of antisocial behaviour, the Prime Minister said: ‘I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t be out there in one of those fluorescent-jacketed chain-gangs.’ Another eye-catching initiative that he announced was to offer fat people rewards if their supermarket bills showed healthy food being bought and monitoring of their footsteps showed evidence of exercise.

On Sunday, 378 migrants crossed the Channel on 12 boats; the French were understood to have stopped 178 people. ‘We cannot stop everyone… there are just too many people and the coastline is too big,’ said Pierre-Henri Dumont, the Republican party member of the National Assembly for Calais. He said the British ‘are giving more money from their own taxes that’s going to waste. It’s going to harm the relationship between the two countries.’


The total in the world reported to have died with coronavirus reached 4,168,124 by the beginning of the week, an increase of 56,898 from the week before. In deaths per million, the UK came 18th in the world (discounting Gibraltar and San Marino) with 1,892, a little higher than the US. Peru acknowledged 5,855 deaths per million but India only 302, though more than 400,000 had died there. Ireland decided to vaccinate children aged 12 or above. Television audiences took a new interest in taekwondo and mountain bike cycling as the Olympic Games entered its second week. Britain’s aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, entered the South China Sea. Jackie Mason, the American stand-up Jewish comedian, died aged 93.

President Joe Biden of the United States said that American forces would end their combat mission in Iraq by the end of the year, but would continue to train the Iraqi military. The head of the UN’s World Food Programme said that food aid has run out in Tigray, where hundreds of thousands were on the brink of famine as conflict with Ethiopia continued. President Kais Saied of Tunisia sacked the Prime Minister, Hichem Mechichi, and was accused by the main political parties of staging a coup. Car windscreens were smashed by hailstones the size of apricots between Piacenza and Parma. The Paseo del Prado in Madrid was added to the Unesco World Heritage list a week after Liverpool was removed.

At least five policemen died after officers exchanged fire on the border between Assam and Mizoram states in north-eastern India. Cardinal Angelo Becciu, 73, went on trial in the Vatican City accused of misusing church funds in a botched property deal to buy a former Harrods warehouse in Chelsea. A cluster of star sapphires weighing more than half a ton, found when a well was being dug in a backyard in Ratnapura, Sri Lanka, was valued at $100 million. CSH

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