London: The U.K. insisted a meeting of top Group of Seven diplomats in London should go ahead after India’s foreign minister S. Jaishankar said he would self-isolate over possible exposure to coronavirus.
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
On Wednesday, the second day of the summit, the U.K. appeared to be pushing on through as a smiling Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was filmed welcoming fellow ministers to Lancaster House with fist bumps. On Tuesday afternoon, according to people familiar, he informed fellow ministers that there had been two positive cases among the Indian delegation, but that foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was not one of them.
The news could have derailed a high-profile event that marked the G-7 debut of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
India is not a member of the G-7, though it was invited as a guest by the U.K. to mark the focus on Asia and the Indo-Pacific, which was also the theme of a dinner where Jaishankar would have been invited but did not attend.
Diplomats are exempt from Covid-19 quarantine rules under U.K. rules but have had regular tests while attending the summit.
A U.K. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Public Health England have determined the risk to those in the meetings is low and they do not have to self-isolate. The official said the Indian delegation has yet to attend the G-7 at Lancaster House in London so do not pose a risk to the summit.
Jaishankar will instead take part in the sessions on Wednesday virtually.
The risk factor is especially high though as India is now battling the world’s worst coronavirus crisis, with hospitals and crematoriums overflowing and citizens forced to beg for oxygen on Twitter.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson canceled a planned visit India last month as the South Asian nation’s second Covid-19 wave surged. Johnson held a virtual summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday.
“I think it’s very important to try to continue as much business as you can as a government,” Johnson told reporters when asked if going ahead with the event had been a mistake. “I will be seeing the Indian foreign minister later this afternoon and that will be a Zoom exchange, I’m given to understand.”
The question in the immediate is what kind of contact did Indian officials have with others. U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel met with Jaishankar, who so far during his stay has also seen counterparts from the U.S., France, Canada, South Africa as well as the European Union’s representative, Josep Borrell.
Down the line however, it will raise the security stakes for when leaders are meant to gather in person in Cornwall next month and how to avoid similar scares in a larger and more important setting.
The U.S. was advised that its “stringent masking, social distancing, and daily testing protocols” would permit its delegation to carry on as planned, State Department spokesman Ned Price said. — Bloomberg