Boris Johnson has shelved a visit to India due to the worsening coronavirus situation in the country, Downing Street has announced.
The prime minister had been due to meet with his counterpart Narendra Modi to discuss relations between the two states.
But India's latest Covid figures show the country recording a surge of 273,810 new cases and 1,619 fatalities – with the pandemic apparently spiralling out of control there.
In a joint statement, the two governments said: “In the light of the current coronavirus situation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not be able to travel to India next week.
“Instead, Prime Ministers Modi and Johnson will speak later this month to agree and launch their ambitious plans for the future partnership between the UK and India. They will remain in regular contact beyond this, and look forward to meeting in person later this year.”
The planned trip has already been postponed once, and is politically important for Mr Johnson – who wanted to use it to publicise the claimed trade benefits of leaving the EU.
The visit had been previously due to take place in January, but the rising number of cases and the spread of a new variant in India has changed the calculation.
It comes as the governemnt continues to warn against unnecessary international travel, and amid speculation about which countries might be permitted destinations after the next phase of reopening.
The government says it is worried that visitors to countries with high Covid levels might risk bringing back new variants of the virus and undermine the UK’s vaccination programme.
It came as a member of the Sage advisory committee said curbs should be imposed on travel from India because its new Covid-19 variant poses “an unknown level of risk”,
Professor Andrew Hayward urged Boris Johnson to “err on the side of caution” over the trade trip.
The B.1.617 strain has been linked to a dramatic surge in infections which is wreaking havoc across India, with evidence it may be capable of evading antibodies and T-cells.
George Eustice, the environment secretary, over the weekend defended the government’s decision not to further restrict travel to India, but said the situation was being kept “under regular review”.
Mr Eustice added that it was “appropriate" that the prime minister’s trip should go ahead, despite rising infection rates in India.
The visit had already been shortened in response to the outbreak.