India placed on UK's travel 'red list' after Boris Johnson cancels official visit

Harry Yorke
·6-min read
The trip, which had already been scaled down from the original plans, would have been Boris Johnson's first major bilateral visit to another country CREDIT: AFP - AP
The trip, which had already been scaled down from the original plans, would have been Boris Johnson's first major bilateral visit to another country CREDIT: AFP - AP

India has been added to the UK’s red list for international travel after Boris cancelled his trip to the country amid concerns over a spike in coronavirus cases and a new variant.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs that the government had made the 'difficult' decision to place the country in the highest level of restrictions because of fears about the new "double mutant" Indian strain.

It means that from 4am on Friday, April 23 any Britons or British residents coming from or through India will have to quarantine in Government approved hotels for 11 days at a cost of £1,750.

International visitors who have departed from or travelled through India in the previous 10 days will be refused entry into the UK.

Mr Hancock told MPs: "We’ve now detected 103 cases of this variant, of which the vast majority have links to international travel and have been picked up by our testing at the border. ‘After studying the data, and on a precautionary basis, we’ve made the difficult but vital decision to add India to the red list.’

His announcement came just hours after the Prime Minister cancelled his visit to New Delhi next week as the coronavirus crisis sweeping across India continues to worsen.

Just days after scaling back the trip to India, Downing Street confirmed that the plans would now be scrapped altogether, with Mr Johnson instead due to speak to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi virtually on Monday.

Speaking after the announcement, Mr Johnson said that while it was “frustrating” it was “only sensible to postpone” due to the state of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.

“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,” he told reporters on a visit to Gloucestershire.

"And I just want to stress that this is, we're going to be going back, the relationship between the UK and India is of huge importance, and I'll be talking to Narendra Modi on Monday, we'll be trying to do as much as we can, virtually.

"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 summit in November and hopefully we'll get Narendra Modi over for the G7 in June."

It comes on the back of mounting calls for the Prime Minister to cancel the trip, with a growing number of scientists also questioning why India has been kept off the travel “red list”, despite case rates now reaching more than 260,000 a day.

There are also concerns over an Indian variant of Covid-19, with 77 cases of the strain reported in the UK so far.

It is currently designated as a “variant of interest”, with experts suggesting on Monday that India could be placed on the hotel quarantine list of high-risk countries if it is upgraded to a variant of concern, such as the Brazilian or South African strains.

However, Mr Johnson insisted the issue of the “red list is very much a matter for the independent UK Health Security Agency”, adding: “they will have to take that decision.”

The cancellation will come as a blow to the Prime Minister, who was expected to announce ambitions to double trade with India over the next decade and call for imports on British goods such as cars and whisky to be cut.

The UK hopes to commence trade deal negotiations with India, one of the world’s fastest growing economies, although there are said to be doubts within Government over how wide-ranging any agreement can be.

The plans are now likely to be announced by Mr Johnson in the UK.

Meanwhile, ministers are also hoping to secure a long-overdue order of vaccines from the Serum Institute in the country, having only received half of the 10 million doses which had been due to arrive last month.

Lord Lister, the Prime Minister’s envoy, visited the Institute last month while in the country ahead of Mr Johnson’s official trip.

In a joint statement confirming the cancellation, the British and Indian governments said: "In the light of the current coronavirus situation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not be able to travel to India next week.

"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.

"They will remain in regular contact beyond this, and look forward to meeting in person later this year."

Meanwhile, speaking ahead of the announcement, Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London said his preference was to "err on the side of caution and act sooner rather than later" to impose tougher travel restrictions on India.

Asked if he would be in favour of India being put on the travel red list, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: "It's a balance of harms and benefits and the challenge with that is that the level of harm is quite high because we're highly connected with India - there's a lot of economic interaction as well as family and social interaction.

"And on the other hand, what we have is an unknown level of risk - my own preference in all of this is to err on the side of caution and to act sooner rather than later. But ultimately, that's going to be a political decision."

A woman is consoled after her relative died due to the coronavirus disease in Ahmedabad, India - Reuters
A woman is consoled after her relative died due to the coronavirus disease in Ahmedabad, India - Reuters

Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said he expects that the Indian variant of the virus which causes Covid-19 will become a "variant of concern".

He told Good Morning Britain: "I am concerned about all the variants. I think our road map is going well and at the moment, in this country, we are doing rather well, enjoying unlocking - but out there there is the Indian variant, the South African, Brazilian etc, and they do pose a threat."

"At the moment, this particular variant [from India] is called a variant under investigation, not a variant of concern because it hasn't been escalated to that level yet

“My assumption from everything I've seen is that it will become a variant of concern. When it becomes a variant of concern, I'd be quite surprised if India wasn't on the red list."