Small Clusters of B.1.617 Variant in UK, Vaccines Raise Hopes: Britain is breathing in some relief after Health Secretary Matt Hancock has pointed to firm signs that the B.1.617 Covid strain that was first found in India appears to be responding to vaccines. In the virus hotspot in the north England town Bolton, most of those seriously ill in hospital with the virus had not been vaccinated. It’s a similar picture elsewhere. Hancock suggests that the variant is “relatively widespread in small numbers”, suggesting clusters across different regions. So far 1,926 new infections have been identified. The government is signalling caution but not alarm over this variant.
Boris Faces Backlash after Delaying India Red-listing: Keeping the B.1.617 Covid strain of the virus in control in Britain could be a matter of survival for Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The UK government placed India on the red list of countries from which arrivals were to be restricted two weeks after it placed Pakistan and Bangladesh on the red list. At that time on April 9, the number of reported cases in Pakistan and Bangladesh were a small fraction of the number of cases in India. It was widely alleged that India was kept off the red list to keep the passage clear for Boris Johnson to visit the country in late April. That visit had to be cancelled given the virus spread in India, and only after that cancellation was India placed on the red list, within hours. Boris Johnson has a particular interest in downplaying any threat from the variant found in India.
Loss of Face for Priti Patel in Mask Row: British Home Secretary Priti Patel finds herself in a new controversy after the Daily Mail reported that she lobbied for a government contract for masks for an Indian friend who is also a member of the Conservative Party. The Indian she lobbied for, Samir Jassal, was officially her adviser in 2014-2015. Priti Patel is reported to have written to Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove to consider Jassal’s firm for an order. Health Secretary Matt Hancock wrote back to say the masks proposed were not suitable, but Jassal was later awarded another contract worth 103 million pounds. Priti Patel’s office says she only duly followed up representations made to her, and failure to do so would have meant dereliction of duty. The opposition Labour Party is demanding an inquiry.
Labour Leader Suspended for Remarks against Home Secretary: A senior Labour Party leader has been suspended after defending the case of two Indians picked up to be deported by staff working under Home Secretary Priti Patel. The two Indians had to be released after neighbours surrounded the van in which they were being taken. Howard Beckett, assistant general secretary of the Unite union tweeted: “Priti Patel should be deported, not refugees. She can go along with anyone else who supports institutional racism.” He later apologised for his remark later and deleted the post, but was suspended from the Labour Party. He later told Sky News that Priti Patel’s immigration policies were “disgusting” and that his suspension was “completely inappropriate”.
Liberty Steel Faces Probe: The business group Liberty Steel headed by Sanjeev Gupta is facing an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office in the UK over suspicions of fraudulent trading and money laundering. At the heart of that is its dealings with its chief financier Greensill, which collapsed in March of this year. Liberty Steel falls within the GFG Alliance owned by Gupta’s family. The GFG Alliance has confirmed it is facing investigation but has refused to comment further. Following the collapse of Greensill, Gupta sought 170 million pounds from the UK government. That was refused because dealings of the firm were considered “opaque”.