LONDON — India's foreign minister pulled out of in-person meetings at a Group of Seven gathering in London on Wednesday and was self-isolating after members of his country's delegation tested positive for the coronavirus. Talks centered on ways to ensure global access to COVID-19 vaccines and curb a virus that is still ravaging many parts of the world, including India.
Diplomats from the G-7 group of wealthy nations are holding their first face-to-face gathering in two years, with social distancing and other measures in place to curb the spread of the virus.
Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar tweeted that he 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."
British media reported that two members of the Indian delegation had tested positive. Britain's Foreign Office, which organized the meeting, did not confirm how many people tested positive or who they were. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said "the individuals concerned are all isolating now."
Delegates attending the event at Lancaster House in London have been observing social distancing and are separated by transparent screens in meetings, and are tested daily for the virus.
India is not a G-7 member but was invited along with South Korea, Australia and South Africa as a guest for the second day of the meeting on Wednesday.
The guest nations' delegations didn't attend the conference on Tuesday, though Jaishankar has held meetings in London with officials including British Home Secretary Priti Patel and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said "the U.S. delegation was advised, including by the U.K.'s public health professionals, that our stringent masking, social distancing, and daily testing protocols would permit us to continue with our G-7 activities as planned."
"We have no reason to believe any of our delegation is at risk," he said.
Britain's Foreign Office said it regretted that Jaishankar couldn't attend the meeting in person, "but this is exactly why we have put in place strict COVID protocols and daily testing."
India is experiencing a vast outbreak of COVID-19, with 382,315 new confirmed cases and 3,780 reported deaths in the last 24 hours, in what is widely believed to be an undercount.
The U.K., which holds the G-7 presidency this year, is due to host the group's leaders at a summit in Cornwall, southwest England, in June.
Johnson defended the decision to hold the foreign ministers' meeting in person.
"I think it's very important to try to continue as much business as you can as a government," the prime minister said.
Johnson said he would be holding "a Zoom exchange" with Jaishankar later.
Johnson, who canceled a trip to India planned for April because of the outbreak there, held a video meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday.
At the two-day G-7 meeting, top diplomats from the U.K., the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan are seeking unity to deal with increasing challenges from China and Russia.
Talks Wednesday are due to focus on attempts to bolster open societies and make coronavirus vaccines available around the world. Wealthy countries have so far been reluctant to give up precious stocks until they have inoculated their own populations.
Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged generosity, saying low-income countries accounted for less than 1% of the billion doses of coronavirus vaccines administered so far.
"The vaccine gap between the richer and poorer parts of the world is growing by the day," Brown said in a letter to U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. "Closing that gap is not just a moral imperative but an urgent medical necessity for combating COVID, and preventing it mutating and threatening every country, rich or poor."