India’s Ministry of External Affairs on Thursday said the country was looking forward to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit next month amid reports suggesting that the trip may not take place as a more infectious strain of the coronavirus was detected in the United Kingdom, PTI reported. Johnson is scheduled to attend India’s annual Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26.

“We had invited the prime minister of the UK as the chief guest at the Republic Day parade in 2021,” Anurag Srivastava, the official spokesperson of the foreign ministry said. “When UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was here, he had publicly confirmed his acceptance. So we look forward to welcoming the prime minister here.”

Last week, Raab had visited India and held delegation-level talks with Union External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar. Johnson’s office had said he will to try to strengthen trade and investment ties and work together on tackling climate change during his visit to India.

New virus

The new UK virus variant, which scientists have named “VUI – 202012/01”, includes a genetic mutation in the “spike” protein, which could result in coronavirus spreading more easily between people. It was first announced by Matt Hancock, the UK health secretary, on December 14. It was subsequently confirmed by Public Health England and the UK’s Covid-19 sequencing consortium. Screening back through databases of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes Covid-19, the first sample was taken in the county of Kent on September 20.

The variant carries 14 defining mutations including seven in the spike protein, which mediates entry of the virus into human cells. This is a relatively large number of changes compared to the many variants in circulation globally. Johnson has claimed that this was as much as 70% more transmissible than previous versions. But there is currently no evidence that the variant is more likely to cause severe coronavirus infections or that it would render vaccines less effective.

The British government has placed some regions including London under new, stricter coronavirus restrictions, known as Tier 4. People in Tier 4 areas will not be able to gather with anyone outside their household for Christmas, while those in the rest of the country can only gather on Christmas Day itself. Meanwhile, the Scotland and Northern Ireland governments have also announced that nearly everyone living in those countries would be subjected to the highest level of restrictions after Christmas.

More than 50 countries, including India, have imposed travel restrictions on the UK and have stepped up efforts to trace and test persons who have flown in from Britain between November 25 and December 23.