Top clinician suspicious at timing of India red listing

20 April 2021, 19:57 | Updated: 20 April 2021, 19:59

By Fiona Jones

Infectious disease expert Dr Bharat Pankhania told LBC he was "uncomfortable" about the timing of India being red listed when clinicians "have been asking for a long time."

India has been added to the travel red list in measures that will take effect from Friday, the health secretary announced on Monday, after a concerning variant of the virus first identified in India had subsequently been detected in the UK.

There are fears about this variant because it has a "double mutation" which could help it infect cells and evade the immune system simultaneously.

However, the addition of India to the red list was only announced after Boris Johnson cancelled his trip.

Dr Pankhania told LBC: "It's a bit disappointing for at least one week, myself and many of my colleagues have been saying look at the case numbers for Bangladesh and Pakistan and compare those to India. India's case numbers are astronomically high compared to its neighbouring countries.

"For India not to be on the red list ages ago was disappointing."

"What was further, almost hurtful, was we heard in the morning the Prime Minister was not going to India after all and then a few hours later we heard that now India had been put on the red list. It doesn't sit comfortably, the sequence of events."

Eddie probed Dr Pankhania to give explicit clarity to his words.

The scientist continued, "How is it that we've been asking for India to be on the red list for a long time, then in the morning the Prime Minister's trip to India is cancelled and a few hours later Prime Minister Johnson said it is the biosecurity centre who makes the decisions, and they have decided to put India on the red list?

"The coincidence is more than a coincidence. It just is uncomfortable because that decision...could have been made many many days earlier."

Dr Pankhania said, "I'm trying to say I think Prime Minister Johnson had a trip planned to India and he didn't want to put India on the red list until he had finished his trip to India."

Public Health England reported that 73 cases of a variant named B.1.617, originally detected in India, have been confirmed in England as well as four cases in Scotland.

The figures come from the latest update of PHE's surveillance of the distribution of different variants across the UK, based on data up to April 7.

Officials have designated it a variant under investigation and some scientists have said it is a cause for concern as it could be "less controlled by vaccine." The variant carries two different mutations E484Q and L452R.

The move comes despite Environment Secretary George Eustice telling LBC on Sunday that the Government was fine with not adding India to the list.