Boris Johnson should cancel India trip amid Covid variant surge, says Steve Reed

Boris Johnson under increasing pressure to cancel India trade trip amid Covid surge

Claims risks are ‘too grave’ as calls mount for India to be placed on travel ‘red list’

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
,Joanna Taylor
Sunday 18 April 2021 19:43
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Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure to cancel his planned trade trip to India later this month as cases of Covid-19 in the country soar.

Opposition parties have lined up to urge the prime minister to put off the trip, as calls mount for India to be placed on the government’s travel “red list”.

Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed said Mr Johnson should carry out his planned engagements over Zoom instead.

Mr Reed added that “all of us in public life need to try and set an example”.

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said that while the UK’s relationship with the country was “incredibly important, the risks associated with India whilst it is struggling with such a severe wave are just too grave”.

And Professor Christina Pagel, from University College London who sits on the Independent Sage panel of scientists, told The Independent: “He shouldn’t be going – it’s just crazy. How insane would it be if we end up pushing our vaccination programme back by weeks or months because Boris Johnson went on a foreign trip?”

The India trip is part of a delayed post-Brexit trade drive for the prime minister.

Leaked documents show the prime minister wants to announce a target to more than double trade with India to £50bn by 2030 during the visit, the Financial Times reported last week.

No 10 has said the meetings will focus on “high-level discussions with the Indian government and Indian business leaders” and be Covid secure.

But India has reported more than 150,000 Covid cases a day for the past three weeks. Fears are growing the surge is being driven by a new variant first identified in India.

Public Health England say 77 confirmed cases of the B.1.617 variant have been detected in the UK.

Mike Tildesley, a member of group which provides evidence on coronavirus to the government’s Sage committee, said as much information about the new Indian variant must be gathered "as quickly as possible".

Mr Tildesley told BBC Breakfast: "What’s concerning about the Indian variant is there appear to be two mutations which ... may make the vaccines less effective, and may make the virus more transmissible."

But Dr Susan Hopkins, the chief medical adviser for NHS Test and Trace, said there was not yet enough data to classify the Indian strain as a "variant of concern”.

She admitted some cases found in the UK did not appear to be linked to travel, but added “to escalate it up the ranking we need to know that it has increased transmissibility, increased severity or vaccine evading, and we just don’t have that yet".

Environment secretary George Eustice defended the decision not to add India to the red list, which would further restrict travel to the country.

But he added that it was "too early to say" whether all hospitality businesses can reopen on 17 May as planned, as ministers had to keep "a close eye on these variants".

Mr Eustice did say it was “appropriate" that the prime minister’s trip should go ahead, despite rising infection rates in India.

The visit has already been shortened in response to the outbreak.

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