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India's delegation sparks COVID concern at G7 meeting in London

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London — India's foreign minister has pulled out of in-person meetings at a Group of Seven gathering in London because of possible exposure to the coronavirus.

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."

Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar  @DrSJaishankar

Britain's Foreign Office, which organized the meeting, didn't immediately confirm whether any delegates had tested positive, but the Reuters news service cited a British government official as saying India's entire G7 delegation is self-isolating after two members tested positive. Britain's Sky News also reported that the Indian delegation has had two positive cases.

The 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."  

Diplomats from the G-7 group of wealthy nations are meeting in London for their first face-to-face gathering in two years. Delegates have been observing social distancing and are separated by transparent screens in meetings, and delegates are tested daily for the virus.

India isn't 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. 

Reporters were told Blinken met with Jaishankar Monday evening local time, with the two delegations sitting socially distanced across from each other and masked. 

Jaishankar was also slated to attend a G7 dinner last night with Secretary Blinken and other foreign ministers but it wasn't clear whether he did.

Blinken has gotten two vaccine shots, the State Department said in February.

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.

Reuters reports that the World Health Organization said Wednesday that a quarter of the reported deaths from COVID-19 globally and 46% of new cases were in India.

The second day of the two-day G-7 meeting on Wednesday was due to focus on attempts to bolster open societies and make coronavirus vaccines available around the world.

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, next month.

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