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Boris Johnson Must Cancel India Trip Amid Covid Variant Concerns, Labour Says


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Boris Johnson must cancel his planned visit to India next week amid concerns over a growing number of cases of a new coronavirus variant that first emerged in the country.

Public Health England (PHE) on Friday reported that 73 cases of the B.1.617 variant have been found in England, as well as four cases in Scotland.

The government is facing calls to place India on the travel “red list”, which would mean arrivals have to isolate in a quarantine hotel, as Covid-19 infections surge, with more than 200,000 new cases detected in the country in each of the last four days.

But the prime minister plans to visit the country for trade talks with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, on Monday April 25.

Johnson’s trip has already been shortened but Labour has now called on the PM to cancel the visit.

Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed told Ridge on Sunday on Sky News: “There are new variants emerging all around the world, the government is telling people: don’t travel if you don’t have to absolutely travel.

Reed said: “I can’t see why the prime minister can’t conduct his business with the Indian government by Zoom, so many of us do that these days.

“I think the prime minister, all of us in public life, need to set an example, and I’d much rather the prime minister did it by Zoom rather than travelling to India.”

Asked by Ridge whether Johnson should still be planning to attend the trade visit, he responded: “I think he shouldn’t be.”

Boris Johnson meets Indian PM Narendra Modi during the G7 summit in 2019

Environment secretary George Eustice said the visit was “appropriate” and should go ahead.

“Public health does come first but that doesn’t mean that there should be no visits at all for business purposes,” he told Ridge.

“But absolutely measures will be taken to ensure that the visit is Covid-secure.”

It came as PHE’s Susan Hopkins said there was not yet enough data to classify the new Indian strain as a “variant of concern” but that investigations were ongoing.

“We have seen a couple of cases (of the Indian variant) that haven’t arisen from travel but we’re still trying to undergo the investigations to look in great detail at where they might have acquired it from,” she told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show.

“To escalate it up the ranking we need to know that it is increased transmissibility, increased severity or vaccine evading, and we just don’t have that yet.”

According to PHE, the variant “includes a number of mutations including E484Q, L452R, and P681R”.

PHE said that mutations of the 484 spike protein have been associated with the Manaus and South African variants.

The E484K mutation is reported to result in weaker neutralisation by antibodies in lab experiments, but the E484Q mutation is different and still subject to investigation.

Viruses by their nature mutate often, with more than 18,000 mutations discovered over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, the overwhelming majority of which have no effect on the behaviour of the virus.