India's G7 delegation isolating after two officials test positive for Covid-19

Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar will revert to online diplomacy on final day of London talks

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar attends a news conference following talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in New Delhi, India, April 6, 2021. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT.

India’s entire G7 delegation is self-isolating in London after two officials tested positive for Covid-19.

The final day of talks went ahead on Wednesday but Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar took part remotely after the two delegates contracted the virus.

The three-day talks hosted by the UK are the first in-person meeting of G7 foreign ministers for more than two years.

“Was made aware yesterday evening of exposure to possible Covid-positive cases,” said Mr Jaishankar, who met UK Home Secretary Priti Patel on Tuesday.

“As a measure of abundant caution and also out of consideration for others, I decided to conduct my engagements in the virtual mode.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said delegates were advised that "our stringent masking, social distancing and daily testing protocols would permit us to continue with our G7 activities as planned”.

“We have no reason to believe any of our delegation is at risk,” he said.

India is not a G7 member but was invited by Britain to this week's summit with other non-members Australia, South Africa and South Korea.

The positive tests come amid a second wave of Covid-19 cases in India, which is currently recording more than 300,000 new infections every day.

The G7 ministers were to discuss Covid-19 on Wednesday as wealthy countries face growing pressure to share vaccines worldwide.

Rich nations are emphasising Covax, a UN-backed programme to help distribute vaccines to the poorest nations.

But analysts say that Covax will not achieve herd immunity because it will cover no more than 20 per cent to 30 per cent of poorer countries' populations.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas defended the G7 nations on Wednesday and said that they were responsible for most of Covax's financing.

"While other countries may employ so-called vaccine diplomacy, we as G7 finance 75 per cent of the Covax vaccine alliance to deliver two billion doses worldwide by the end of the year," he said.

"We want this to continue and to get even faster. As G7, we are aware of our responsibility."

India is the world's largest manufacturer of vaccines but the crisis at home raised fears of a global rush for supplies.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the issues were a “really good opportunity for the G7, together with our Indo-Pacific partners, to talk all of that through and come up with positive answers”.

Britain and India plan 'quantum leap' in bilateral relations

As well as the ministers from Britain, the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and invited countries, the final day of talks on Wednesday were due to include development chiefs to discuss global challenges.

A British official told Reuters that India’s delegation was self-isolating because of the virus scare.

“The meeting had been enabled by a strict set of Covid protocols, including daily testing of all delegates,” the official said.

The summit will set the stage for a G7 leaders’ summit in Cornwall, south-west England, next month.

Britain and India announced bilateral agreements on Tuesday as the UK moves forward with its “Indo-Pacific tilt” after Brexit.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson held online talks with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and pledged what Britain called a “quantum leap” in relations.

The two countries are aiming for a free-trade deal that they hope will double the volume of UK-India commerce over the next decade.

A new "young professionals scheme" will allow people aged 18 to 30 in the UK and India to live and work in the other country for up to two years.

Britain is also aiming to "work in lockstep" with India on security issues, with a carrier strike group led by HMS Queen Elizabeth on its way to the Indo-Pacific.

Mr Johnson was scheduled to visit India last month but the trip was postponed because of the virus situation.