London, Jun 15 (PTI) Britain''s Opposition Labour Party on Tuesday blamed the surge in Delta variant cases, which forced a four-week delay to ending the country''s lockdown until July 19, on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s reluctance to ban travel from India – where the highly transmissible variant was first identified.
Labour shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds dubbed it the “Johnson variant” as he accused the British prime minister of "unbelievably reckless" actions by not adding India to the “red list” of countries from where travel is effectively banned, with British residents able to return only under compulsory hotel quarantine.
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.
"The delay is happening because a new variant first identified overseas was allowed to take hold in this country," said Nick Thomas-Symonds during a House of Commons speech.
"There is one reason and one reason only that this happened – lax border measures by Conservative ministers. They have allowed the Delta variant, first identified in India, to take hold here. Let’s call it what it is. Let’s put the blame where it should lie. In this country – it’s the Johnson variant,” he said.
Labour, which is pushing for a Commons vote on the issue of border controls, pointed to Johnson’s planned visit to India at the end of April which had to be cancelled as the Delta variant spiralled India’s second wave of COVID-19 infections exponentially.
"It was unbelievably reckless that on his list of priorities Boris Johnson put having his photograph taken with Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi ahead of protecting the British people. Nobody is blaming people who travelled when they were permitted to do so; the blame lies with the Prime Minister for his unjustifiable delay. It was a fortnight of failure and we are all suffering the consequences,” added Thomas-Symonds.
UK Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove dismissed the allegations as “rubbish” and defended Johnson, saying the government would never put public lives at risk.
"The Prime Minister would never put the health of the country at risk in that way and people who are pedalling this line are a) trying to make a political point and b) aren''t looking at the facts and the timeline that we''ve been discussing,” he told the BBC.
"So what can one say? People will throw all sorts of rubbish like that around and I think the thing is just to shrug one''s shoulders," he said.
Gove stressed that India was put on the red list “before the Delta variant was a variant under investigation and well before it was a variant of concern” in the UK.
The debate comes as Johnson confirmed on Monday that the UK''s lockdown roadmap would have to be extended by a month. The so-called "Freedom Day" marking an end to all legal social distancing restrictions now set for July 19, instead of the originally intended June 21.
The Delta variant was identified as the reason behind this postponement, to allow the National Health Service (NHS) to vaccinate a wider set of older and younger age groups of the population. PTI AK ZH