Boris Johnson cancels visit to India as Covid cases surge in sub-continent
The nation press services
2021-04-19 | Since 3 Week
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelled his upcoming trip to India amid mounting concern over a new strain of the virus as the pandemic situation on the subcontinent deteriorates.
A scaled-down trip was due to take place next week but the tour has now been scrapped.
"In the light of the current coronavirus situation, prime minister Boris Johnson will not be able to travel to India next week," a joint statement from the British and Indian government said.
"Instead, prime ministers [Narendra] Modi and Johnson will speak later this month to agree and launch their ambitious plans for the future partnership between the UK and India.
"They will remain in regular contact beyond this, and look forward to meeting in person later this year."
Mr Johnson's office last week said the planned three-day visit would be reduced to a "shorter programme" with the bulk of meetings scheduled for April 26.
But India is currently battling a devastating surge in Covid-19 cases, with concern that a new variant could undermine approved vaccines.
British scientists on Monday said India should be placed on the red list of travel-ban countries while the strain is investigated.
That would mean only UK nationals could return from the country and those doing so must pay to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days.
Delhi announced a week-long lockdown on Monday as the city's health system crumbles under the weight of new infections.
Fewer than 100 critical care beds were available in the city of New Delhi, with a population of more than 20 million people, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Sunday.
A total of 77 cases of the variant known as B.1.167, first identified in India, was reported in the UK up to April 14.
Health authorities labelled the strain as a “variant under investigation” but this could progress to a “variant of concern” if it is discovered to spread more easily or undermine vaccines.
Prof Danny Altmann from Imperial College London said on Monday new variants should be treated with caution as vulnerable people could be “caught out” if the strain is able to evade immunity.
“We are still vulnerable, and some people in our population are still vulnerable – what I mean by that is the Indian variant, for example, certainly has a mutation like the ones that evade the best neutralising antibodies,” he told ITV.
“If you have a population where at least half of us have had zero or one dose of vaccine, some won’t have made a very good response to the vaccine, because perhaps they are very old or obese or unwell.
“We still have a very large vulnerable population who can still be caught out by variants like this.”
India reported a record 273,810 cases and a record 1,679 deaths on Monday.
Mr Johnson's visit to India had been hailed as an exciting opportunity to upgrade UK-India relations after a series of false starts.
Walter Ladwig, a political scientist and South Asia expert at King’s College London, said there was an appetite on the Indian side for a transformation of bilateral links.
“They see the UK as being one among many states that can play an important role with respect to India and the Indo-Pacific.”