United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday cancelled his visit to India scheduled for January 26, reported Reuters.

“The prime minister spoke to [Indian] Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi this morning, to express his regret that he will be unable to visit India later this month as planned,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.

Johnson cited the complete lockdown imposed in England on Monday, fuelled by the new variant of the virus, as the reason behind cancelling his trip. “In light of the national lockdown announced last night, and the speed at which the new coronavirus variant is spreading, the prime minister said that it was important for him to remain in the UK so he can focus on the domestic response to the virus,” the spokesperson said.

Earlier reports had suggested that Johnson’s trip may not take place as a new strain of the coronavirus, which is said to be 70% transmissible, was detected in the UK. However, India’s Ministry of External Affairs had said the country was looking forward to the British prime minister’s visit.

The prime minister had on December 26 accepted India’s invitation to be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi.

“I am absolutely delighted to be visiting India next year at the start of an exciting year for Global Britain, and look forward to delivering the quantum leap in our bilateral relationship that Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi and I have pledged to achieve,” Johnson had said in a statement, following the announcement. India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that Johnson’s presence as the chief guest on Republic Day will mark a new era in the relationship between the two countries.

The new virus strain

India has so far reported 58 cases of the new virus strain.

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, and 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 23 mutations in its genetic code a relatively high number of changes compared with the version that originated in Wuhan, China, a year ago and some of these are affecting its ability to spread. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has claimed that this was as much as 70% more transmissible than previous versions.

Most scientists have said that the new variant has rapidly become the dominant strain in coronavirus cases in parts of southern England, and have linked it to an increase in hospitalisation rates. However, it is difficult to say exactly how much more transmissible the new variant may be as scientists have not yet done the kind of lab experiments that are required to assess it.

The new strain has also been reported in the United States, Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, Lebanon and Singapore.