U.K.’s Boris Johnson Cancels India Trip Amid Fears Over Covid Variant
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson hosts the UN Security Council’s virtual meeting in London, U.K. (Photographer: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg)

U.K.’s Boris Johnson Cancels India Trip Amid Fears Over Covid Variant

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson canceled his visit to India, amid soaring coronavirus cases in the country and the emergence of a new variant scientists fear could prove partly resistant to vaccines.

Johnson was due to meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi next week, but announced Monday that the trip was now not going ahead “in the light of the current coronavirus situation.” Cases hit a record in India over the weekend.

The prime minister had faced growing pressure to both cancel the trip and put India on the U.K.’s travel ban list, after health authorities confirmed last week that Britain had 77 cases of a new variant first identified in the country. A decision to add India to the so-called red list is expected as soon as Monday, Times Radio reported.

Johnson said in a pooled broadcast interview it is up to the U.K. Health Security Agency to decide whether to add India to list, which would mean travelers from India are refused entry unless they are British nationals -- in which case they would need to quarantine for 10 days in a government-approved hotel.

‘Sensible’

“Narendra Modi and I have basically come to the conclusion that, very sadly, I won’t be able to go ahead with the trip,” Johnson said. “I do think it’s only sensible to postpone, given what’s happened in India, the shape of the pandemic there.”

Researchers are still investigating how transmissible the variant is, as well as its ability to evade vaccines, Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser to the National Health Service’s test-and-trace program, told the BBC on Sunday. Officials still call it a “variant under investigation” rather than one “of concern,” and surge testing is being carried out to try and contain its spread.

“In the light of the current coronavirus situation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not be able to travel to India next week,” the British and Indian governments said in a joint emailed statement Monday.

‘Regular Contact’

“Instead, Prime Ministers Modi and Johnson will speak later this month to agree and launch their ambitious plans for the future partnership between the U.K. and India. They will remain in regular contact beyond this, and look forward to meeting in person later this year,” they said.

While Johnson’s predecessor, former Prime Minister David Cameron, pursued a strategy of increased trade ties with both India and China, relations with Beijing have soured in recent months -- placing diplomacy with New Delhi at the heart of Britain’s plans.

Johnson told broadcasters: “The relationship between the U.K. and India is of huge importance and I’ll be talking to Narendra Modi on Monday, we’ll be trying to do as much as we can, virtually.”

He also said he hoped that Modi would attend the Group of Seven summit of world leaders in the U.K. in June.

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