UK PM Johnson cancels trip to India due to coronavirus worries

neWeekly question time debate in Parliament in London
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LONDON (Reuters) -British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday cancelled a planned trip to India, scheduled to take place next week, saying it was a sensible move in light of a surge in COVID-19 infections there.

India is enduring a second wave of the virus, with infections passing the 15 million mark, second only to the United States. Delhi is due to go into lockdown on Monday night.

"(Indian Prime Minister) Narendra Modi and I have basically come to the conclusion that, very sadly, I won’t be able to go ahead with the trip," Johnson told reporters. "I do think it’s only sensible to postpone."

Johnson had already postponed the trip once from January, when COVID-19 infections were high in Britain.

A joint statement from the British and Indian government said the trip had been cancelled.

"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."

Relations with India are seen as a key component of both Britain's post-Brexit ambitions to reinvigorate trade with countries outside the European Union, and a diplomatic push to gain more influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

"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 COP (climate) summit in November, and hopefully we’ll get Narendra Modi over for the G7 in June," Johnson said.

Britain has invited India to attend the G7 summit it is hosting in June.

British health officials said on Sunday they were investigating a COVID-19 variant originating in India, but they did not yet have enough evidence to classify it is as a variant of concern.

(Reporting by William James, editing by Andy Bruce and Angus MacSwan)