Wednesday. 3/3/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Markus Hippi

Extra helpings

The UK’s chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, will unveil his 2021 budget today and the country’s hospitality industry, badly bruised by the pandemic, is hoping for some good news. It’s expected that Sunak will offer restaurants, pubs, bars and cafés grants worth up to £18,000 (€20,800) per premises to help them reopen when the lockdown is eventually eased in the spring (tentative dates are 12 April for opening outdoors and 17 May for indoor spaces).

The UK hospitality industry has already emphasised that although grants are mostly welcome, more assistance is needed, such as a cut in VAT and a business-rate holiday for the rest of the year, as well as an extended furlough wage scheme for staff members who are unable to work. In recent weeks Treasury officials have also reportedly been examining options including cutting the alcohol tax for restaurants and pubs, and bringing back the popular taxpayer-funded Eat Out to Help Out scheme that enabled restaurants to offer a discount to customers last August. Perhaps this time, however, the scheme can be introduced in a manner that doesn’t increase infection rates.

It remains to be seen whether any of these proposals have found their way into the budget. But what is clear is that the hospitality industry is in dire need of help, and quickly: a new report estimates that as many as 30 of the UK’s pubs and restaurants are closing every day.

For more analysis of the UK’s 2021 budget as it is unveiled, tune in to today’s episodes of ‘The Globalist’ and ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / USA

Penalty shot

Joe Biden has unveiled new sanctions on Russian officials, ostensibly over the imprisonment of dissident Alexei Navalny but also no doubt marking an effort by the US president to set himself apart from his predecessor’s more laissez-faire attitude towards Vladimir Putin’s regime. But how much impact will it really have on a government in perpetual violation of international law? “Sanctions are not a magic bullet,” says Russia analyst Mark Galeotti. “On their own they will not deter the Kremlin from doing anything it is determined to do.” But they can serve as a signal of intent, and while they’re unlikely to succeed in getting Navalny out of prison, they will apply pressure in the longer term. “Personal sanctions on a wide range of the instigators and implementers are a useful way to punish them,” says Galeotti. With any luck, he adds, such sanctions might also convince the next generation of ambitious politicians in Russia to think “about what getting involved in such activities will mean in the future”.

Hear more from Mark Galeotti on today’s episode of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / China

Party spirit

Chinese officials will be in a jubilant mood this week as thousands make their way from across the country to Beijing for the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, a rubber-stamp parliament that officially begins on Friday. The Communist Party celebrates its centenary this year and state media has been busy championing the management of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as last week’s declaration that extreme poverty in China has been eradicated. President Xi Jinping (pictured) will attend and the main order of business will be to approve the leadership’s next five-year plan for the economy – boosting self-sufficiency is expected to be a strong focus. However, no amount of homegrown technology and domestic consumer demand can insulate Beijing from the rising volume of international criticism, which ranges from the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang, to plans to “improve” (read eviscerate) the political system in Hong Kong. As the Biden administration formulates its China policy, the bonhomie in Beijing could be short-lived.

Image: Shutterstock

Health / Austria

Taking sides

Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz (pictured) announced yesterday that the nation would “no longer rely on the EU” to solely provide vaccines against coronavirus. Austria, alongside Denmark, is instead working on a co-operation deal with Israel for the inevitable further rounds of inoculations needed in coming years. The three leaders plan to hold a mini-summit in Israel tomorrow. It’s a clever ploy from the politically astute Austrian leader: in a single action he has both managed to distance himself from an EU-led vaccine rollout that has plenty of critics and allied Austria with two countries that are winning plaudits for their own innoculation schemes. And yet Kurz’s tone could use smoothing over – his EU partners won’t be best pleased. Perhaps he should have followed the lead of Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen, who stressed that her country’s involvement in the partnership isn’t due to a lack of confidence in the EU but rather an effort to boost long-term supplies. Now that’s a far more diplomatic way of putting it.

Image: Canada Post

Society / Canada

Mail bonding

If you’re in Canada be sure to check your postbox this week because there will be a small, rectangular treat waiting for you, courtesy of the national mail service. Canada Post is sending one blank postcard to every household across the country – some 13.5 million of them – for recipients to write a message and mail to someone (postage paid) from whom they’ve been isolated during the pandemic. The front of one of the six card designs shows two white dots representing eyes above a smile formed by the words “Sending smiles. Je t’embrasse”. The initiative might serve as good PR for the postal service but it’s also a timely counter to the online communication that has become routine. So if you’ve received yours, pick up a pen and write to someone you’ve missed. And tell them that you’ll see them in person soon.

Image: Alamy

M24 / The Urbanist

Tall Stories 246: Jasper Park Lodge, Jasper

We stop by Jasper Park Lodge, a historic hotel in the Canadian Rockies that’s hosted plenty of famous faces.

Monocle Films / Australia

Australia’s roadhouses

The roadhouses along the Great Northern Highway in Western Australia are vital, serviceable sanctuaries for the truck drivers who frequent them. Monocle hits the road to meet the characters who rely on these outback pit-stops.

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