The challenges of making that happen, though, become clear when climbing the confined, 334-step stairwell that winds up to the belfry. Also evident: the quality of the renovation.

Bright morning light shone in through the four restored clock faces — perched high above the Houses of Parliament — each with 324 pieces of pot opal glass produced in Germany. Newly refurbished golden orbs that decorate the tower’s stonework glinted in the sun.

The sheer size of Big Ben, weighing a little over 15 tons, is impressive, as is the intricacy of a clock mechanism based on the most advanced technology available to its 19th-century creators. It still loses no more than a second in accuracy a week.

The Elizabeth Tower is not the first clock tower to watch over Parliament — that one is thought to date from around 1290. In 1834, a fire destroyed the Palace of Westminster, leading to the construction of the modern-day building that is one of the most famous examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the world.

And when the original clock tower was built, it was constructed with a rising scaffold, “so it rose as if by magic, it was noted at the time,” Mr. Watrobski said.

In May 1859, crowds lined the streets to greet Big Ben’s arrival. The enormous bell was pulled by 16 horses to Westminster, where it took 18 hours to haul it nearly 200 feet to the belfry before it could first ring out.

Back then, the clock tower was the most advanced and ambitious public building of its age, but by 2017, stonework was deteriorating, water was leaking into the belfry, and the steps, ironwork and guttering were all in need of repair. There was even still damage dating from 1941, when Parliament was bombed during World War II.

“Like all historic buildings, you don’t really know until you peel off the skin what you are going to find underneath,” Mr. Watrobski said. “There was a considerable amount of damage to cast iron and to stonework.”

The restoration work has gone a long way to modernizing the Elizabeth Tower, which will reopen this year to tourists. But the improvements will benefit visitors and maintenance staff alike.

An elevator has been installed, as has a restroom at the top — the lack of which previously meant Big Ben’s maintenance workers had to trek down the 334 steps whenever they were in need of one. There is even now a spot for the staff to make tea.

While Big Ben needs constant maintenance, the clock had never been fully serviced until this restoration. After it was dismantled, it was secreted away from London, more than 280 miles, to the workshop of the Cumbria Clock Company in northwestern England.

Given its symbolic importance, its whereabouts while being serviced was never disclosed.

To help keep the work under wraps, the Cumbria Clock Company removed signs from its building to make it harder for uninvited visitors to find. When a group of walkers once peered through a window and asked if they were looking at the famous clock, they were told that they were instead viewing one from Manchester Town Hall.

“It was very important that what we were doing was kept secret,” said the company’s director, Keith Scobie-Youngs, who was worried that it might attract thieves or vandals as well as curious tourists.

Mr. Scobie-Youngs said that the clock had been in remarkably good condition and that he had been awed by the skill of the 19th-century clockmakers.

“Nobody had ever attempted to build a clock that size to the accuracy demanded,” he said, adding, “I refer to it as being the smartphone of the 1850s.”

Mr. Scobie-Youngs also lauded Big Ben: “There is a unique sound to it,” he said. “It is that unique heartbeat.”

The bell’s bong, he said, was instantly recognizable to Britons. “When people were a long way from home, and it was on the radio, that unique sound brought people home again,” Mr. Scobie-Youngs said.

Freshly painted, finished with enough gold to cover four tennis courts, and complete with more than 7,000 replacement stones and carvings, the exterior of the Elizabeth Tower stands as a monument to what can be achieved by modern restoration, protecting it, hopefully, for the next 75 years.

Even for those who spent years on the project, the result was a pleasant surprise, said Charlotte Claughton, a senior project leader. She said that she was taken aback when the scaffolding came down and she saw the building shining, “as if it was new,” in the sunlight.

“It was hugely exciting to see it. There are a few moments that catch you off guard, and that was one of them,” Ms. Claughton said. “It was heartwarming.”

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Supply Chain Woes Could Worsen as China Imposes Covid Lockdowns

WASHINGTON — Companies are bracing for another round of potentially debilitating supply chain disruptions as China, home to about a third of global manufacturing, imposes sweeping lockdowns in an attempt to keep the Omicron variant at bay.

The measures have already confined tens of millions of people to their homes in several Chinese cities and contributed to a suspension of connecting flights through Hong Kong from much of the world for the next month. At least 20 million people, or about 1.5 percent of China’s population, are in lockdown, mostly in the city of Xi’an in western China and in Henan Province in north-central China.

The country’s zero-tolerance policy has manufacturers — already on edge from spending the past two years dealing with crippling supply chain woes — worried about another round of shutdowns at Chinese factories and ports. Additional disruptions to the global supply chain would come at a particularly fraught moment for companies, which are struggling with rising prices for raw materials and shipping along with extended delivery times and worker shortages.

China used lockdowns, contact tracing and quarantines to halt the spread of the coronavirus nearly two years ago after its initial emergence in Wuhan. These tactics have been highly effective, but the extreme transmissibility of the Omicron variant poses the biggest test yet of China’s system.

Volkswagen and Toyota announced last week that they would temporarily suspend operations in Tianjin because of lockdowns.

Analysts warn that many industries could face disruptions in the flow of goods as China tries to stamp out any coronavirus infections ahead of the Winter Olympics, which will be held in Beijing next month. On Saturday, Beijing officials reported the city’s first case of the Omicron variant, prompting the authorities to lock down the infected person’s residential compound and workplace.

If extensive lockdowns become more widespread in China, their effects on supply chains could be felt across the United States. Major new disruptions could depress consumer confidence and exacerbate inflation, which is already at a 40-year high, posing challenges for the Biden administration and the Federal Reserve.

“Will the Chinese be able to control it or not I think is a really important question,” said Craig Allen, the president of the U.S.-China Business Council. “If they’re going to have to begin closing down port cities, you’re going to have additional supply chain disruptions.”

thrown the global delivery system out of whack. Transportation costs have skyrocketed, and ports and warehouses have experienced pileups of products waiting to be shipped or driven elsewhere while other parts of the supply chain are stymied by shortages.

For the 2021 holiday season, customers largely circumvented those challenges by ordering early. High shipping prices began to ease after the holiday rush, and some analysts speculated that next month’s Lunar New Year, when many Chinese factories will idle, might be a moment for ports, warehouses and trucking companies to catch up on moving backlogged orders and allow global supply chains to return to normal.

But the spread of the Omicron variant is foiling hopes for a fast recovery, highlighting not only how much America depends on Chinese goods, but also how fragile the supply chain remains within the United States.

American trucking companies and warehouses, already short of workers, are losing more of their employees to sickness and quarantines. Weather disruptions are leading to empty shelves in American supermarkets. Delivery times for products shipped from Chinese factories to the West Coast of the United States are as long as ever — stretching to a record high of 113 days in early January, according to Flexport, a logistics firm. That was up from fewer than 50 days at the beginning of 2019.

The Biden administration has undertaken a series of moves to try to alleviate bottlenecks both in the United States and abroad, including devoting $17 billion to improving American ports as part of the new infrastructure law. Major U.S. ports are handling more cargo than ever before and working through their backlog of containers — in part because ports have threatened additional fees for containers that sit too long in their yards.

Yet those greater efficiencies have been undercut by continuing problems at other stages of the supply chain, including a shortage of truckers and warehouse workers to move the goods to their final destination. A push to make the Port of Los Angeles operate 24/7, which was the centerpiece of the Biden administration’s efforts to address supply chain issues this fall, has still seen few trucks showing up for overnight pickups, according to port officials, and cargo ships are still waiting for weeks outside West Coast ports for their turn for a berth to dock in.

work slowdowns and shipping delays.

“If you have four closed doors to get through and one of them opens up, that doesn’t necessarily mean quick passage,” said Phil Levy, the chief economist at Flexport. “We should not delude ourselves that if our ports become 10 percent more efficient, we’ve solved the whole problem.”

Chris Netram, the managing vice president for tax and domestic economic policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, which represents 14,000 companies, said that American businesses had seen a succession of supply chain problems since the beginning of the pandemic.

“Right now, we are at the tail end of one flavor of those challenges, the port snarls,” he said, adding that Chinese lockdowns could be “the next flavor of this.”

Manufacturers are watching carefully to see whether more factories and ports in China might be forced to shutter if Omicron spreads in the coming weeks.

Neither Xi’an nor Henan Province, the site of China’s most expansive lockdowns, has an economy heavily reliant on exports, although Xi’an does produce some semiconductors, including for Samsung and Micron Technology, as well as commercial aircraft components.

Handel Jones, the chief executive of International Business Strategies, a chip consultancy, said the impact on Samsung and Micron would be limited, but he expressed worries about the potential for broader lockdowns in cities like Tianjin or Shanghai.

stay away from any vehicle collisions involving Olympic participants, to avoid infection.

Last year, terminal shutdowns in and around Ningbo and Shenzhen, respectively the world’s third- and fourth-largest container ports by volume, led to congestion and delays, and caused some ships to reroute to other ports.

But if the coronavirus does manage to enter a big port again, the effects could quickly be felt in the United States. “If one of the big container terminals goes into lockdown,” Mr. Huxley said, “it doesn’t take long for a big backlog to develop.”

Airfreight could also become more expensive and harder to obtain in the coming weeks as China has canceled dozens of flights to clamp down on another potential vector of infection. That could especially affect consumer electronics companies, which tend to ship high-value goods by air.

For American companies, the prospect of further supply chain troubles means there may be another scramble to secure Chinese-made products ahead of potential closures.

Lisa Williams, the chief executive of the World of EPI, a company that makes multicultural dolls, said the supply chain issues were putting pressure on companies like hers to get products on the shelves faster than ever, with retailers asking for goods for the fall to be shipped as early as May.

Dr. Williams, who was an academic specializing in logistics before she started her company, said an increase in the price of petroleum and other raw materials had pushed up the cost of the materials her company uses to make dolls, including plastic accessories, fibers for hair, fabrics for clothing and plastic for the dolls themselves. Her company has turned to far more expensive airfreight to get some shipments to the United States faster, further cutting into the firm’s margins.

“Everything is being moved up because everyone is anticipating the delay with supply chains,” she said. “So that compresses everything. It compresses the creativity, it compresses the amount of time we have to think through innovations we want to do.”

Ana Swanson reported from Washington, and Keith Bradsher from Beijing.

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South Africa Parliament Fire Still Burning After Hours

CAPE TOWN — A large fire at South Africa’s Houses of Parliament on Sunday sent flames and smoke billowing from rooftops and fire crews racing to save the historic structures.

Officials said the fire spread from an office space on the third floor of a building adjacent to the old National Assembly building toward a gym and to rooftops. The scale of the destruction was not immediately clear, they said, but there were fires burning in “two very distinct areas,” and they warned that it was likely to be extensive.

“The entire parliamentary complex is severely damaged — waterlogged and smoke damaged,” JP Smith, Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, said, adding that “the roof above the old assembly hall is completely gone.”

“The second point of fire is the National Assembly building, which is gutted,” Mr. Smith said, referring to the building where the Parliament meets. “The structural ceiling has collapsed. The fire staff had to be momentarily withdrawn.”

In March, the older building caught fire, but that blaze was quickly extinguished.

“It’s tragic that we’re starting the New Year on this basis, with a fire in the old assembly that seems to be spreading to the new assembly,” Steven Swart, the chief whip of the African Christian Democratic Party, said on Sunday.

The fire was still burning hours after it was first reported. At least six fire trucks and about 70 firefighters and police officers were sent to the scene, Mr. Smith said, and the streets around the complex were closed off.

The blaze broke out a day after the funeral of Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who helped lead the fight against apartheid in South Africa. It was held at St. George’s Cathedral, which is a few minutes’ walk from the Houses of Parliament. The archbishop’s ashes were interred in the cathedral on Sunday morning, in a private ceremony for his family at the same time the fire was first spotted.

Cape Town is no stranger to fires, and wildfires on the slopes of its famed Table Mountain have had a devastating impact in recent years. Last year, a wildfire spread to the University of Cape Town, where it devoured the special collections library — home to one of the most expansive collections of first-edition books, films, photographs and other primary sources documenting the history of Southern Africa.

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Support for Japan PM up as voters welcome his COVID measures

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks before the media at his official residence as an extraordinary Diet session was closed, in Tokyo, Japan December 21, 2021. Yoshikazu Tsuno/Pool via REUTERS

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TOKYO, Dec 27 (Reuters) – Nearly two-thirds of Japanese voters support Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government, with the public welcoming his anti-coronavirus measures, including temporary border closure to new foreign entrants, the Nikkei business daily said on Monday.

Support for Kishida’s cabinet rose to 65%, up by 4 percentage points from the previous survey a month ago, the newspaper said.

In the latest poll taken from Friday to Sunday, 61% of those surveyed evaluated positively Kishida’s anti-coronavirus steps, the highest figure since the Nikkei started asking the public’s views on the government’s coronavirus response in February 2020.

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Amid the global emergence of highly transmissible Omicron variant of coronavirus, Kishida late November announced that Japan was barring entry to foreigners for about a month. Last week, he extended the measure through New Year holidays.

Kishida took office in October, replacing Yoshihide Suga, whose one-year term as prime minister saw his support crumble as COVID-19 surged.

Japan has detected several hundreds new coronavirus cases a day in recent weeks, down sharply from more than 20,000 daily infections in the latest peak in August.

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Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Michael Perry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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