A Cabinet Minister was today forced to deny claims India has been left off the coronavirus red list because the Government does not want to jeopardise trade talks with Delhi.
Boris Johnson is due to fly to the country next week – despite mounting calls for the visit to be axed.
Environment Secretary George Eustice backed the trip, defying Labour demands for it to be scrapped.
“I think it is important that the business of politics does continue and doesn’t stop completely – we just need to make sure we take the right precautions,” he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
“Public health does come first but that doesn’t mean there should be no visits at all for business purposes.”
The trip has already been delayed once and has now been scaled back to just one day of meetings.
Labour urged the Prime Minister to postpone the visit again.
Shadow Communities Secretary Steve Reed said: “There are new variants emerging all around the world, the Government is telling people don’t travel if you don’t have to absolutely travel and I can’t see why the Prime Minister can’t conduct his business with the Indian government by Zoom.
“So many of us do that these days and I think the Prime Minister, all of us in public life, need to try and set an example so I’d much rather the Prime Minister did it by Zoom than by travelling to India.”
At least 77 cases of the Indian Covid-19 variant have been found in Britain, with cases continuing to soar in India.
NHS Test and Trace Chief Medical Adviser Dr Susan Hopkins said that there was not yet enough data to classify the new strain as a “variant of concern”, but investigations were ongoing.
“We have seen a couple of cases that haven’t arisen from travel but we’re still trying to undergo the investigations to look in great detail at where they might have acquired it from,” she said.
“To escalate it up the ranking we need to know that it is increased transmissibility, increased severity or vaccine evading, and we just don’t have that yet.”
A leading epidemiologist said it was crucial that scientists urgently learn as much as they can about the variant to assess what action needs to be taken to curb transmission.
Mike Tildesley, of Sage committee offshoot the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling said: “I would always say when these new variants do emerge it is a concern and it’s really important that we get as much information as we can as quickly as possible.
“What’s concerning about the Indian variant is there appear to be two mutations which… may make the vaccines less effective, and may make the virus more transmissible.
“The key thing here is ‘may’. We are still trying to gather evidence about this.”