Britain on Monday imposed its strictest travel curbs on India after an explosion of coronavirus cases there, hours after Prime Minister Boris Johnson called off a trip to New Delhi.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that effective from 0300 GMT on Friday, India was being added to Britain’s “red list” of countries, banning all arrivals from India except for UK or Irish nationals.
Those nationals, along with foreigners who live in the UK, must pay hefty amounts to stay in a government-approved quarantine hotel for 10 days following their return from red-list nations, which include Pakistan and Bangladesh.
“We’ve made the difficult but vital decision to add India to the red list,” Hancock told parliament after the government had faced days of criticism for holding off the decision, pending Johnson’s trip.
The decision was in light of surging case numbers and the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant in India, the health minister said after New Delhi entered a week-long lockdown.
In the event, the UK and Indian governments earlier Monday called off Johnson’s visit, which was set for next week after already being postponed in January.
It would have been Johnson’s first major foreign visit since he took office in 2019.
“In the light of the current coronavirus situation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not be able to travel to India next week,” the two governments said in a joint statement.
They said that Johnson and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi would instead 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.”
Monday’s announcement could also have a knock-on effect upon England’s upcoming home international cricket schedule.
Several leading England and New Zealand cricketers currently taking part in the lucrative Indian Premier League tournament are expected to fly in for the two-match Test series that starts at London’s Lord’s ground on June 2.
Indian players could be affected too, with Virat Kohli’s men set to face New Zealand in the inaugural World Test Championship final in Southampton later that month.
But the Rose Bowl ground at Southampton, the headquarters of county side Hampshire, boasts an on-site hotel and it was one of the venues, along with Manchester’s Old Trafford, that has a similar set-up, which pioneered international cricket’s return from coronavirus-enforced suspension last year.
A spokesperson for the International Cricket Council, the sport’s global governing body, said: “The ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) and other Members have demonstrated how we can stage international cricket safely in the middle of a pandemic and we are confident that we can continue to do that and that the World Test Championship Final will go ahead as planned in June in the UK.”
The India women’s team is also due to arrive for a multi-format series against England starting on June 16.
Johnson’s office had last week announced the visit would be shortened. It was originally organised to span three days and set to begin on April 26.
It had initially been heralded as an opportunity for Britain to refocus its international trade policy in the wake of Brexit as it pursues a so-called “global Britain” strategy.
But spiking coronavirus cases, hospitalisations and deaths in Britain earlier this year led to its delay.
Now, surging infections in India — where officials have recorded five consecutive days of more than 200,000 cases — have led to its cancellation altogether.
A total of 103 cases of the Indian variant have been identified in Britain, Hancock said.