By JILL LAWLESS, LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called off a trip to New Delhi amid surging coronavirus cases in India, as the U.K. kept a worried eye on a new variant first identified in the vast Asian country.
The British and Indian governments said Monday that “in the light of the current coronavirus situation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not be able to travel to India next week” as planned. The two governments said Johnson and Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi would speak later this month and planned to meet in person later this year.
The long-planned trip would have been Johnson’s first foreign visit since the start of the coronavirus pandemic more than a year ago. It was originally scheduled for January but postponed when infections soared in Britain. India reported 273,810 new infections on Monday, its highest daily rise since the start of the pandemic and now has reported more than 15 million infections, a total second only to the United States. The Health Ministry also reported 1,619 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, pushing the toll over 178,769. India has the fourth-highest number of deaths after the U.S., Brazil and Mexico — though, with nearly 1.4 billion people, it has a much larger population than any of those countries.
New Delhi, where Johnson and Modi had been due to meet, was placed under a weeklong lockdown Monday as the explosive surge in cases pushed the Indian capital’s health system to its limit. The soaring cases and deaths come just months after India thought it had seen the worst of the pandemic. Johnson said it was “only sensible” to postpone the trip, “given what’s happened in India, the shape of the pandemic there.” He said he hoped Modi would be able to come to Britain for the Group of 7 summit in June, to which India has been invited as a guest. British health officials are considering whether to add India to a “red list” of countries with high coronavirus rates. Travelers from those countries are barred in the U.K. and returning Britons face mandatory hotel quarantine. The U.K. has recorded at least 77 cases of a new variant of the virus that was first identified in India. Scientists are investigating whether it spreads more rapidly or is more resistant to existing vaccines than the original strain.
Johnson said the U.K.’s independent Health Security Agency would decide whether to place India on the red list.
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