2021 TIME100 Next
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February 17, 2021 6:55 AM EST

Little more than a year ago, Rishi Sunak was an unknown junior minister in the British government. But after the 40-year-old former hedge-fund partner was appointed to lead Britain’s Treasury in February 2020, he quickly became the benevolent face of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, approving large handouts for many citizens whose jobs were disrupted by the virus. (The already unemployed and self-employed received less support.) Sunak also oversaw a policy that, when infections were low over the summer, subsidized dining out at restaurants in an attempt to revive the economy. The perceived generosity—and his youthful charm—earned him a legion of fans, but his policy was blamed when cases of COVID-19 began to rise shortly after. Critics also point out that because he has consistently advocated for early relaxation of lockdown rules, Sunak bears perhaps more responsibility than most for Britain’s failures in responding to the virus, which has left more than 115,000 people dead—the fifth highest toll in the world. Nonetheless, Sunak remains the country’s most popular politician, according to the pollster YouGov. And he’s the oddsmakers’ favorite to be Britain’s next Prime Minister. —Billy Perrigo

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