Boris Johnson CANCELS trip to India amid surging coronavirus cases and alarm about new variant
- Boris Johnson has cancelled trip to India amid fears over Covid spike and variant
- The PM had already scaled back the visit to bolster trade ties with giant country
- Experts had called for India to be added to travel ‘red list’ amid mutant concerns
A joint statement from the British and Indian government said the trip – already scaled back – will not go ahead ‘in light of the current situation’.
‘In the light of the current coronavirus situation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not be able to travel to India next week,’ the statement said.
‘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.’
There had been growing speculation about the fate of the trip as the situation threatened to spiral in the country – with calls for it to be added to the UK’s list of destinations where most travel is banned and Britons returning must check into quarantine hotels.
Boris Johnson today cancelled his trip to India amid surging coronavirus cases and alarm about a new variant
The Covid variants circulating in the UK: Public Health England says officially the Indian variant has been spotted 77 times in Scotland and England since March
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE INDIA VARIANT?
Real name: B.1.617
When and where was it discovered? The variant was first reported as being of concern by the Indian government in late March. The first cases appear to date back to October 2020.
What mutations does it have? The two main mutations are named E484Q and L452R, which scientists suspect can help it to transmit faster and to get past immune cells made in response to older variants. Those mutations are routinely not found on other variants monitored by Public Health England.
How many people in the UK have been infected with it? 77 people so far, according to a report published on April 15. Their locations are unknown.
The news comes after an expert warned the Indian coronavirus variant could ‘pose a threat’ to mr Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown.
It is feared the B.1.617 strain spreads more easily than older versions of the virus and scientists say it has mutations which may help it evade vaccines.
Professor Danny Altmann, an Imperial College London immunologist, said there were vaccinated vulnerable Britons who could ‘still be caught out by variants like this’.
Health officials warned yesterday that cases of people in the UK contracting the South African and Kent strains after being vaccinated have already been recorded.
Public Health England says officially the Indian variant has been spotted 77 times in Scotland and England since March.
But analysis of publicly available information on new variant numbers on Saturday suggest cases have risen to 160, suggesting it’s spreading rapidly in the community.
PHE currently lists it as a ‘variant under investigation’, a tier below other troublesome strains including the Kent, South African and Brazilian variants.
But Professor Altmann told Good Morning Britain today: ‘My assumption from everything I’ve seen is that it will become a variant of concern.’
He added: ‘I think our road map is going well and at the moment, in this country, we are doing rather well, enjoying unlocking – but out there there is the Indian variant, the South African, Brazilian etc, and they do pose a threat.’
SAGE member Professor Andrew Hayward backed calls for India to be put on the ‘red list’ to buy experts time to study the variant in more detail.
The infectious disease expert urged the Government to ‘err on the side of caution and act sooner rather than later’.
But top experts studying Britain’s Covid variants said the Indian variant was unlikely to ever take off in the UK because its mutations were ‘not top tier’.
They questioned whether the strain actually is more transmissible than older versions, claiming the evidence was still murky.
Professor Danny Altmann (left), an Imperial College London immunologist, said there were vaccinated vulnerable Britons who could ‘still be caught out by variants like this’. SAGE member Professor Andrew Hayward (right) backed calls for India to be put on the ‘red list’ to buy experts time to study the variant in more detail