UK PM Boris Johnson cancels India visit due to current Covid-19 situation
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday called off a planned visit to India this week because of the Covid-19 situation, the second time this year he has deferred a trip to the country due to the pandemic.
The UK government had decided last week to reduce the length of Johnson’s visit following discussions with the Indian side. The Indian mission in London had announced the visit was to begin on April 25.
“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 [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,” said a spokesperson for the UK prime minister’s office.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi added the decision to call off the visit had been made by mutual agreement. “The two sides will be holding a virtual meeting in the coming days to launch plans for a transformed India-UK relationship,” he said.
Hours after the announcement regarding the cancellation of the visit, UK secretary of state for health Matt Hancock told Parliament the government had included India in the “red list” of countries facing travel restrictions.
Johnson told reporters in London that he and Modi had “basically come to the conclusion that, very sadly, I won’t be able to go ahead with the trip”. He added, “I do think it’s only sensible to postpone given what’s happening in India – the shape of the pandemic there.”
He said the UK’s relationship with India is of “huge importance” and that he would hold a virtual meeting with Modi on April 26. “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 [COP26] Summit in November and hopefully we’ll get Narendra Modi over for the G7 in June,” he said.
In January, Johnson cancelled a visit to India to be chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations in order to remain in Britain to focus on his government’s response to a new Coronavirus variant that was spreading rapidly at the time.
While unveiling an integrated review of defence, development and foreign policy in March, the UK announced Johnson would travel to India at the end of April as part of Britain's tilt towards the Indo-Pacific. It had been expected that the bulk of Johnson’s engagements would have been in New Delhi on April 26, and that the two sides would make some key announcements and sign some agreements.
Monday’s development came against the backdrop of mounting criticism in Britain for Johnson’s plans to go ahead with the trip to New Delhi at a time when India is witnessing a massive surge in Covid-19 infections. The country recorded more than 270,000 cases and more than 1,600 deaths on Sunday.
Making a statement on the Covid-19 situation in the UK Parliament, Hancock said 103 cases of the Indian “double mutant” Covid-19 variant had been detected so far.
“After studying the data and on a precautionary basis, we’ve made the difficult but vital decision to add India to the red list. This means anyone who is not a UK or Irish resident or a British citizen, cannot enter the UK if they’ve been in India in the previous 10 days,” Hancock said.
British citizens who have been in India before their arrival will need to complete hotel quarantine of 10 days, and the rules will come into force from Friday.
On Sunday, the main opposition Labour Party joined calls for Johnson to cancel his visit. “I can’t see why the prime minister can’t conduct his business with the Indian government via Zoom,” said Labour’s shadow communities secretary Steve Reed.
“The prime minister, like all of us in public life, needs to try and set an example. I’d much rather the prime minister did it by Zoom rather than travelling to India,” Reed told Sky News.