POLITICS
19/04/2021 09:51 BST | Updated 19/04/2021 12:05 BST

Boris Johnson Cancels India Trip Amid Covid Variant Concerns

Cases in the country have been surging, while a strain first detected there has since been found in the UK.

Boris Johnson has cancelled his trip to India next week amid concerns about a new coronavirus variant and surging cases in the country.

The prime minister had already scaled back the visit amid surging Covid cases in India.

But he was still planning to hold face-to-face talks with Indian PM Narendra Modi in New Delhi on April 26.

However, after Labour called for the visit to be cancelled, the British and Indian governments said in a joint statement: “In the light of the current coronavirus situation, prime minister Boris Johnson will not be able to travel to India next week.

“Instead, prime ministers 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.”

Public Health England (PHE) on Thursday reported that 73 cases of the B.1.617 variant originally detected in India had been found in England, as well as four cases in Scotland.

The government is facing calls to place India on the travel “red list”, which would mean arrivals have to isolate in a quarantine hotel, as Covid-19 infections surge, with more than 200,000 new cases detected in the country in each of the last four days.

Johnson told reporters on Monday: “The red list is very much a matter for the independent UK health security agency – they will have to take that decision.

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

“Countries around the world, including our own, have been through this. I think everybody’s got a massive amount of sympathy with India and what they’re going through.

“And I just want to stress that this is, we’re going to be going back, the relationship between the UK 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.

“Of course it will be frustrating, but we’ll try and replicate as much as we can remotely, and then look forward to doing it in person as and when circumstances allow, and hopefully before the Cop summit in November and hopefully we’ll get Narendra Modi over for the G7 in June.”

According to PHE, the variant that was first detected in India “includes a number of mutations including E484Q, L452R, and P681R”.

PHE said that mutations of the 484 spike protein have been associated with the Manaus and South African variants.

The E484K mutation is reported to result in weaker neutralisation by antibodies in lab experiments, but the E484Q mutation is different and still subject to investigation.

Viruses by their nature mutate often, with more than 18,000 mutations discovered over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, the overwhelming majority of which have no effect on the behaviour of the virus.