India’s foreign minister ‘exposed to possible Covid cases’ after G7 meetings in London

·4 min read
<p>Priti Patel meets the Indian minister for external affairs Dr S Jaishankar in London on Tuesday</p> (Priti Patel/Twitter)

Priti Patel meets the Indian minister for external affairs Dr S Jaishankar in London on Tuesday

(Priti Patel/Twitter)

India’s minister for external affairs has been informed of “exposure to possible Covid positive cases” after arriving in the UK for the first in-person meetings of G7 foreign ministers in over two years.

It comes as reports that two members of the country’s delegation to the summit in London tested positive for the virus. Daily testing protocols have been put in place for the meeting by Public Health England.

Posting on Twitter, the Indian minister Dr S Jaishankar, who met with Priti Patel, the home secretary, on Tuesday as part of meetings in London, said he was now participating virtually as a “measure of abundant caution”.

“Was made aware yesterday evening of exposure to possible Covid positive cases,” he said.

“As a measure of abundant caution and also out of consideration for others, I decided to conduct my engagements in the virtual mode. That will be the case with the G7 Meeting today as well.”

A senior UK diplomat added: “We deeply regret that foreign minister Dr Jaishankar will be unable to attend the meeting today in person and will now attend virtually, but this is exactly why we have put in place strict Covid protocols and daily testing”.

An Indian government source later told The Independent that all members of the country’s delegation were tested for Covid before departing for the G7 event on Sunday evening and reported negative results.

“We are working with the UK health authorities to figure out what the protocol is, what is the level of exposure that the minister might have had,” they added.

“Meanwhile out of an abundance of caution, as he said, and out of consideration for his group he is doing everything online, which is very sad because he went all that way for this. Hopefully the British authorities will tell us what exactly will be the protocol, whether further tests are required and so on.”

It is understood the Indian delegation had not yet attended the formal G7 meeting at Lancaster House, but did have other meetings in advance. However, Public Health England has determined the risk to those from other delegations, including the UK, was low and they do not have to self-isolate.

Under current travel restrictions, India is on the “red list” meaning people arriving from the country must quarantine for 10 days in a government-designated hotel, but there are certain exemptions, including for diplomatic missions.

Last month, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office insisted “strict” Covid-19 secure measures had been put in place, including daily testing and domestic social distancing guidelines. The last in-person meeting took place in 2019 at Dinard and Saint-Malo in France – before the pandemic forced countries to close borders and impose restrictions.

India is not a member of the G7, but the country was invited to the high-level event as a guest nation, ahead of a major summit of leaders in Cornwall next month led by Boris Johnson.

Pressed on whether it was a mistake to hold the meeting in person, the prime minister told reporters: “I think it’s important to try to continue as much business as possible as you can as a government.

“We have a very important relationship with India, with our G7 partners. As I understand it what’s happened is the individuals concerned are all isolating now and when I see the Indian foreign minister later this afternoon that that will be a Zoom exchange.”

But Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said there were questions that needed answering after India’s foreign minister was forced to self-isolate, “if only to make sure it is not repeated”.

“It is a reminder of how vigilant we need to be about our borders – we’ve been challenging government on this for some months.

“Let’s get to the bottom of how this happened, we cannot have a repeat. More broadly, my thoughts are with all those in India who are suffering – we’ve all seen those images, we must all do whatever we can to help the Indian people in their hour of need.”

On Wednesday, foreign ministers from other nations arrived at Lancaster House in central London for the second day of the summit, with foreign secretary Dominic Raab arriving at the venue ahead of officials from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, the US and the EU.

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