The Indian delegation in the UK for this week’s G7 meeting is self-isolating after two positive COVID tests among them, Sky News understands.
Although it is not a G7 member, India was among other countries invited to attend the first in-person meeting of the group’s foreign ministers in more than two years in London this week.
The meeting was described as “COVID-secure talks” ahead of this June’s full G7 summit in Cornwall.
Asked whether it had been a mistake to hold the G7 meeting in person, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday morning: “I think it’s very important to try to continue as much business as you can as a government.
“We have a very important relationship with India, with our G7 partners. As I understand it, what’s happened is the individuals concerned they’re all isolating now.
“I will be seeing the Indian foreign minister later on this afternoon but that will be a Zoom exchange.”
It is understood the two Indian delegation members were found to be COVID positive on Tuesday from PCR tests as part of Public Health England’s testing programme.
Was made aware yesterday evening of exposure to possible Covid positive cases. As a measure of abundant caution and also out of consideration for others, I decided to conduct my engagements in the virtual mode. That will be the case with the G7 Meeting today as well.
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) May 5, 2021
Although the India delegation has yet to attend G7 meetings at London’s Lancaster House, where some talks were held on Tuesday, they had been due to do so on Wednesday.
They will now take part in those meetings virtually.
However, Indian ministers and officials did have some other meetings in advance of their planned attendance at the Lancaster House talks.
Home Secretary Priti Patel met with India’s foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Tuesday as the pair signed a new UK-India migration agreement.
Sky News understands because Dr Jaishankar has not tested positive, Ms Patel will not be self-isolating.
Dr Jaishankar posted on Twitter: “Was made aware yesterday evening of exposure to possible Covid positive cases.
“As a measure of abundant caution and also out of consideration for others, I decided to conduct my engagements in the virtual mode.
“That will be the case with the G7 Meeting today as well.”
Dr Jaishankar had also met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday.
As mask-wearing and social distancing was observed during the India delegation’s in-person meetings this week, it is understood Public Health England do not see a need for the delegation’s contacts to also self-isolate.
A senior UK diplomat said: “We deeply regret that Dr Jaishankar will be unable to attend the meeting today in person but will now attend virtually, but this is exactly why we have put in place strict COVID protocols and daily testing.”
The India delegation were given diplomatic exemptions to the UK’s quarantine rules on their arrival to the UK, although a daily testing regime is in place.
All other G7 attendees will continue to be tested daily and strict social distancing protocols will remain in place.
On Wednesday morning, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said he was unaware of reports of G7 delegates self-isolating following a COVID scare.
Asked on Sky News whether he knew how many were self-isolating, he said: “I don’t I’m afraid, but obviously Public Health England and the team that are organising G7 take this very seriously.
“We continue to have one of the most robust set of protocols around testing and so we will make sure that happens, but I don’t know the numbers.”
He added: “This is news to me… I can’t really comment.”
The India delegation travelled to London amid a recent surge in COVID cases in their home country, which has led to a scramble for oxygen and other medical supplies in India’s hospitals.
The UK has been among international donors of supplies, with British aid including a shipment of ventilators.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the positive cases among the India delegation in London raised questions about “how this happened”.
Speaking on a local election campaign visit in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, on Wednesday, Sir Keir said: “My thoughts are with those that have been affected by this and those that may be affected by this.
“I do think we need to ask questions about how this happened, if only to make sure that it’s not repeated.
“It is a reminder of how vigilant we need to be about our borders – we’ve been challenging the government on this for some months.
“Let’s get to the bottom of how this happened, we cannot have a repeat.
“More broadly, obviously, my thoughts are with all those in India who are suffering.
“We’ve all seen those images and we must all do whatever we can to help the Indian people in their hour of need.”