British Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelled his visit to India, hours after he announced a fresh lockdown in the United Kingdom over the new strain of coronavirus that has affected thousands of people in the UK. Mr Johnson was to be the chief guest at this year's Republic Day parade in New Delhi, which was also to be his first bilateral visit after the UK's departure from the European Union in December. He had accepted the invitation last month.
"The prime minister spoke to Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi this morning, to express his regret that he will be unable to visit India later this month as planned," read a statement from his Downing Street office.
"In light of the national lockdown announced last night, and the speed at which the new coronavirus variant is spreading, the Prime Minister said that it was important for him to remain in the UK so he can focus on the domestic response to the virus," the statement read.
"The leaders underlined their shared commitment to the bilateral relationship, and to continuing to build on the close collaboration between our countries -- including in response to the pandemic," it added.
Mr Johnson's government has announced a complete lockdown for England's 56 million people, which could last until mid-February.
The measures were taken amid a huge spurt in coronavirus cases which saw 80,000 fresh infections on one day in the end of December. If unchecked, the National Health Service will be overwhelmed, Mr Johnson had said while making the lockdown announcement, which came into effect on Monday night.
On Tuesday, the UK recorded more than 60,000 new cases.
The UK strain of virus has already reached India, with 58 people testing positive so far. This morning, the Union health ministry announced 20 fresh infections. The numbers are expected to rise as genome sequencing goes on in full swing in 10 laboratories across the country and international travellers flying in over a 14-day period in December are traced and tested.
Mr Johnson would have been the second British Prime Minister to attend the Republic Day parade as the Chief Guest after his predecessor John Major in 1993.
"The Prime Minister said that he hopes to be able to visit India in the first half of 2021, and ahead of the UK's G7 Summit that Prime Minister Modi is due to attend as a guest," his office said.