It is "possible" that putting India on the red list earlier might have prevented the widely anticipated delay to easing England’s coronavirus lockdown that is set to be announced later, a minister has said.
The government has been criticised for putting India on the travel red list on 23 April – two weeks after neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Asked if quicker action could have prevented the current situation, health minister Edward Argar told Sky News that such a suggestion was a "hypothetical" and "we don’t know is the short answer".
"I don’t think that would have necessarily stopped the variant coming," he insisted.
But pressed again, Mr Argar acknowledged: "It’s a hypothetical. It’s possible, but there’s no way of knowing that."
The minister defended the government’s approach, saying ministers took "swift and decisive action".
"We have some of the toughest border regimes in the world when it comes to tackling coronavirus and I think we acted swiftly and decisively when that was put on the list of variants of concern," he said.
Labour’s Lucy Powell said "undoubtedly we were too late to put India on the red list".
"That certainly, I think, had everything to do with the fact that the prime minister was supposed to be going out there himself," the shadow housing secretary said, referencing a planned trip to India by the PM that was cancelled amid a surge in COVID cases there.
Discussing the coronavirus situation generally, Mr Argar said a "zero COVID approach" was not feasible and that vaccines were the key to living with the virus.
He suggested that the reason for the impending delay to lockdown easing was to allow more time for second doses to be administered.
"We are seeing that severing of the link between the disease and hospitalisations and death," the minister said.
"I think that on that basis, everyone will recognise that there comes a point where we do have to live with this disease and recognise that you cannot go for a zero COVID approach, you have to live with it, and vaccination is the key to that.
"So I think once we have got those second doses in people’s arms, once we have got that level of protection up to around that 81%, then I think people will be more comfortable with it."