UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has decided to reduce the length of his visit to New Delhi at the end of this month because of the recent spurt in Covid cases in India, Downing Street said on Wednesday.
Earlier, Johnson was to spend a few days in India starting April 26 as part of a planned itinerary, which is expected to include finalising a UK-India Enhanced Trade Partnership.
However, now with the pandemic crisis in India taking a turn for the worse, the itinerary has had to be reworked and the major part of the high-level bilateral interactions, including bilateral talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are now scheduled to be limited to New Delhi on April 26.
“We have been in close contact with the Indian government about the Prime Minister’s upcoming visit in light of the Covid situation in India. As a result of these discussions, the Prime Minister has made the decision to reduce the length of the visit, due to take place at the end of this month, to a shorter programme in New Delhi,” the Prime Minister’s spokesperson at 10 Downing Street said.
The programme will be focused on high-level discussions with the Indian government and Indian business leaders, the official said.
“We’ll set out more details in due course, but the visit will include a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Modi.
"As with all the Prime Minister’s visits, his trip to India will prioritise the safety of those involved. All elements of the visit will be Covid secure,” the spokesperson said.
The 56-year-old UK prime minister is himself a COVID-19 survivor. In April, Johnson spent three nights in intensive care at a London hospital before being discharged.
The statement from Downing Street came on a day India registered the highest ever single-day spike in COVID-19 cases with 1,84,372 new infections.
On Wednesday, a single day spike of 1,84,372 coronavirus infections and 1,027 fatalities pushed India's tally of cases to 1,38,73,825 and death toll to 1,72,085.
Last month, while addressing the virtual International Conference on Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (ICDRI) inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi, Johnson had said that the UK and India’s shared vision for a sustainable future will be among the issues on the agenda for talks during his upcoming visit.
“We have a shared vision for a sustainable future for our nations and global community and I very much look forward to discussing this and many other issues with Prime Minister Modi on my upcoming visit to India,” he said at the time.
The announcement of the visit, which had been postponed from a planned Republic Day tour in January due to the escalating COVID-19 crisis in the UK, came as the UK launched the conclusions of its integrated review of defence, security, development and foreign policy – a post-Brexit policy vision that falls within a wider Global Britain agenda.
A central foreign policy shift included in the review is a definitive tilt towards the Indo-Pacific region as the “geopolitical centre of the world”.
“I am delighted to announce that I will visit India next month to strengthen our friendship with the world’s biggest democracy,” he said in a House of Commons statement on March 16.
British High Commissioner to India, Alex Ellis, recently said that the visit promises to be a very significant marking of a new kind of relationship across trade and investment as well as the exchange of people and ideas between India and the UK.
The envoy, who is in charge of finalising the prime ministerial visit agenda, highlighted several pillars of focus for the bilateral engagement, covering areas such as defence and security and climate action and healthcare, including cooperation in the area of COVID-19 vaccines.
“This is the first major bilateral visit that this Prime Minister would have made to any country outside the UK, that says quite a lot about the significance of the India relationship which he seeks,” Ellis said last month during a seminar organised by the London-based think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
“It is very exciting that he is coming. He was planning to come in January, but the Covid situation in the UK put paid to that, but he is very keen to come and we are really looking forward to what we hope will be a very significant marking of a new kind of relationship,” he added.
(With PTI inputs.)