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SOURCE: NDTV

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will visit India later this month, sources in the British High Commission told NDTV, asserting that there’s no change in his plan so far even as the United Kingdom sees the strictest restrictions in months over a new mutant strain of coronavirus. Mr Johnson last month said he has accepted India’s “very generous” invite to be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade in New Delhi.

The British PM’s India visit, which happens to be the first since he took office, comes amid a huge surge in coronavirus cases in the UK after a new mutant strain – believed to be much more infectious – was detected in September.

The new version of the virus led to fresh wave of travel restrictions worldwide. However, despite temporary travel bans, more than 30 countries have reported patients infected with the mutant version. In India, 58 patients, all of them who came back from the UK or had contact with such travellers, have been found to be infected with the strain.

Mr Johnson “will use his visit to India to boost cooperation in areas that matter to the UK and that will be priorities for our international engagement throughout 2021 – from trade and investment, to defence and security, and health and climate change,” his office said last month.

This is also his first bilateral visit after the UK’s departure from the European Union in December. He is only the second British leader to attend the Republic Day parade in Delhi as guest of honour after John Major in 1993.

On Monday, the British PM announced a full nationwide lockdown as he said: “With most of the country already under extreme measures, it’s clear that we need to do more, together, to bring this new variant under control while our vaccines are rolled out.” As of Monday, almost 27,000 people with Covid were in hospital — 40 percent more than at the peak of first wave of the outbreak on April last year, news agency AFP quoted him as saying.

Last month, speaking to NDTV, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the Chair of the Council of the British Medical Association, had said Boris Johnson’s India visit may not happen amid surge in Covid cases.

The UK has logged over 27 lakh cases of coronavirus; deaths linked to the virus are likely to pass the grim 100,000-mark by the end of this month. The cases are on a rise even as the country has rolled out two Covid vaccines by US pharma major Pfizer and the one jointly developed by the pharma firm AstraZeneca and the Oxford University, which India has also cleared for emergency use.

Calling India “an increasingly indispensable partner for the United Kingdom”, Boris Johnson last month described the country as “pharmacy of the world”. “As the ‘pharmacy of the world’ India supplies more than 50 per cent of the world’s vaccines, with over a billion doses of the UK’s Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine being manufactured at India’s Serum Institute in Pune,” his office quoted him as saying.  

India’s Covid tally has surged past 1.03 crore cases, the second-highest in the world after the United States. Two vaccines – Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and Covishield developed by Pune-based Serum Institute of India along with AstraZeneca and the Oxford University-  have been cleared by the drug regulator DCGI for emergency use.