Boris Johnson’s planned visit to India next week has been cancelled because of the country’s escalating coronavirus crisis, a joint statement by the UK and India has announced.
“In the light of the current coronavirus situation, prime minister Boris Johnson will not be able to travel to India next week,” said the statement, released by Downing Street.
“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. They will remain in regular contact beyond this, and look forward to meeting in person later this year.”
As late as Friday, Downing Street had insisted the trip would go ahead. However, Johnson had come under increasing pressure to call it off.
Johnson said it was frustrating to have to call off the trip but said much of the work could be done remotely before they were able to meet in the future.
Speaking to reporters on a visit to Gloucestershire, the PM said: “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 happened 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, what they’re going through.”
New coronavirus cases in India reached more than 273,000 on Monday, while worries about a coronavirus variant first detected in India now present in the UK have led some scientists to argue the country should already be on the “red list” of states subject to the strictest travel restrictions.
Delhi will impose a week-long lockdown from Monday night, officials said, as the city struggles to contain a huge surge in Covid-19 cases with hospitals running out of beds and oxygen supplies low.
No 10 had already scaled back its plans for the trip, which was to have been Johnson’s first major overseas visit since becoming PM in 2019.
At the end of last week Downing Street said the India trip would be “slightly shorter” than planned and now most of the important meetings were due to take place all on one day – Monday 26 April.
On Sunday, the shadow communities secretary, Steve Reed, said the trip should be abandoned due to the situation with Covid.
Speaking on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Reed said Johnson should abandon his trip because “all of us in public life need to try and set an example”.
He said: “There are new variants emerging all around the world. The government is telling people don’t travel if you don’t absolutely have to travel. I can’t see why the prime minister can’t conduct his business with the Indian government by Zoom.”