Top clinician suspicious at timing of India red listing

20 April 2021, 19:57 | Updated: 18 May 2021, 17:25

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."

Following this interview from 20 April, India was added to the travel red list on 23 April, meaning all people flying inbound must quarantine for 14 days.

However, clinicians were calling for India to be put on the red list "for a long time" due to its "double mutation" which could help it infect cells and evade the immune system simultaneously.

The Indian Covid variant is set to be the dominant strain in the UK "in the next few days", scientists have said, with the Government struggling to contain cases.

Those reported to have had this strain has risen by over 75% since Thursday, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirming in the Commons that there are 2,323 cases in the UK, with over five cases in 86 local authority areas.

Meanwhile, the chair of the cross-party Covid inquiry has said it must be examined whether Boris Johnson’s decision to delay adding India to the travel “red list” of countries was influenced by his desire to start trade talks with Delhi.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has insisted the decision to wait 17 days before adding it to the list of countries requiring mandatory quarantine was not political, while Bangladesh and Pakistan were added despite having significantly fewer case rates.

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 days earlier that the Government was fine with not adding India to the list.