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British PM forced to defend India travel ban timing over Delta variant in Parliament


PTI, Jun 16, 2021, 8:29 PM IST

London: Britain’s Opposition Labour Party on Wednesday escalated attacks on the government’s alleged delay in adding India to the travel ban ”red list”, which it claims led to a spike in the Delta variant infections in the UK.

During the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) session in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced on the defensive as he was confronted by Labour Leader Keir Starmer with dates linked with the detection of the Delta variant in India at the end of March. Starmer accused Johnson of ”indecision”, which led to the UK now having the ”highest infection rate in Europe” of the Delta variant and also resulted in a month-long delay to an end to lockdown until July 19.

Johnson retaliated by countering the allegations to reiterate that India was added to the travel ban list well before it was categorised as a variant of concern by Public Health England (PHE) on May 7. ”On 24 March, a new variant was reported in India. On 1 April, India was reporting over 100,000 new infections a day, and rising. But the Prime Minister kept India off the red list until 23 April. In that time, 20,000 people came into the UK from India,” said Starmer.

”What on earth did the Prime Minister expect would be the consequences of that,” he questioned.

Johnson fought back with his own dates and stressed that the high infection rates in the UK were due to a ”better understanding” of the variants, with 47 per cent of the genomic testing in the world being done in Britain.

”I really think that the Leader of the Opposition should get his facts straight, because the Delta variant, as I have said, was identified in this country on 28 April,” said Johnson.

”We took the most drastic steps possible to put India on the red list on 23 April, before that variant was even identified. The big difference between this country and the rest of Europe… is that we have had the fastest vaccine roll-out anywhere in Europe. We have a very, very high degree of protection,” he said.

The clash carried on as Starmer pointed out how the Opposition was arguing for India to be on the red list between April 1 and 23.

”If that had happened, we would not have the Delta variant here, and it is as simple as that,” he said.

But Johnson branded him ”Captain Hindsight” and called on him to ”adjust his retrospectoscope” and contested the Labour Party’s data.

”He says that B1617 — the Delta variant — was designated as under investigation on April 1. That is not the Delta variant; that is the kappa variant. It is a ‘gamma’ for the Labour party. The Delta variant, as it happens, is seeded around the world in 74 countries and, sadly, is growing,” he said.

The latest face off over the issue comes a day after Labour’s shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, dubbed the “Johnson variant” as being behind the latest Delta variant infections surge due to the government lax border policy. Thomas-Symonds pointed to Johnson’s planned visit to India which had to eventually be cancelled at the end of April.

According to official estimates, around 20,000 passengers who could have been infected with the Delta variant arrived from India from early April until April 23, when India was officially added to the red list. A red list categorising involves a near-complete travel ban, with returning British residents required to undergo a compulsory 10-day quarantine at a government-designated hotel.

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