The UK is on the lookout for new trade deals after leaving the EU, but the alarming rise in COVID cases is forcing the Prime Minister’s plans to change.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson canceled a trip to India scheduled for later this month, citing the need to oversee the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK.
Johnson informed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the change in plans on Tuesday, a day after announcing the start of a new national lockdown in England, a spokeswoman for his office said.
‘In light of the nationwide lockdown announced last night and the speed at which the new variant of the coronavirus is spreading, the Prime Minister said it was important for him to stay in the UK so that he could focus on the response national to the virus, ”the spokeswoman said.
“The Prime Minister has said he hopes to be able to visit India in the first half of 2021, and ahead of the UK’s G7 summit which Prime Minister Modi is expected to attend as a guest.”
Last month, the government announced Johnson’s intention to visit India as part of efforts to speed up trade talks, with the UK seeking new bilateral deals after leaving the European Union.
But the COVID-19 crisis in the country has since worsened considerably with an increase in cases and hospital admissions to a new high, fueled by the spread of a more communicable variant.
Under the new lockdown – the UK’s third – most people have to work from home, schools have closed for nearly all students and reception areas, as well as non-essential shops, are to remain closed.
In a televised address Monday, Johnson warned the UK was at “a critical juncture”, with cases rising sharply in all parts of the country.
“As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from COVID than at any time since the start of the pandemic,” Johnson said as he abandoned his regional approach to tackling the pandemic.
“With most of the country already under extreme measures, it is clear that we must do more together to bring this new variant under control.”
More than 75,000 people in the UK have died from COVID-19 within 28 days of testing positive since the start of the pandemic.
A record 58,784 new coronavirus cases were reported on Monday.
Andrew Simmons of Al Jazeera, who reports from London, described the mood in the country as “rather grim” amid the spiraling workload.
“People are really worried,” he says. “We’ll see this whole lockdown stay in place until at least mid-February.
“A minister suggested it could last until March and even longer with certain restrictions. The plan will gradually ease the restrictions, but this is approaching spring. “