London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday cancelled a planned trip to India later this month, citing the need to oversee the pandemic response at home.

“The Prime Minister spoke to Prime Minister Modi this morning, to express his regret that he will be unable to visit India later this month as planned,” a Downing Street spokeswoman said.

“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.”

Britain began its third COVID-19 lockdown on Tuesday with citizens under orders to stay at home and the government calling for one last major national effort to stem the virus before mass vaccinations turn the tide.

India had invited UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson as chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations on January 26, 2021.

Overall, Britain has been among the worst hit in the world by the outbreak, with some 2.7 million cases and 75,431 deaths.

Johnson was widely criticised for hesitating too long about the measures, particularly school closures.