Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth cancels visit to South Korea as North Korea rages about British warships' deployment
ROYAL Navy flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth has axed plans to visit South Korea amid the escalating coronavirus crisis in the country and deepening tensions with North Korea.
The mighty aircraft carrier had planned to visit the Asian state’s southern city of Busan to carry out a series of joint defence events.
But South Korea is currently gripped in its latest wave of coronavirus, which has forced military chiefs to change course.
The decision follows a visit to the port by the Royal Navy’s Astute-class nuclear-powered submarine, HMS Artful, which arrived days before the £3.2bn aircraft carrier’s expected arrival.
The move comes as Britain faces an outcry from North Korea over plans to deploy two Portsmouth-based warship to Asian waters in the coming weeks.
‘We've decided to cancel the port call given the coronavirus situation. Exchanges and other in-person events between the sailors will not take place. But some combined field maneuvers are likely to be staged as planned,’ a military source told the Yonhap News Agency.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence added the the wider programme of exercises at sea for the ship remain unchanged by the move.
Last month saw infections in South Korea surge to their highest levels since the pandemic began, with 1,275 new cases recorded in a day.
The sudden spike is being blamed on the delta variant of the virus, which was first identified in India.
Despite the virus outbreak, plans are still set to go ahead for Queen Elizabeth and her task group to continue with maritime drills with South Korea and Japan.
Meanwhile, bitter military leaders from South Korea’s neighbour, North Korea have lashed out over the British task force’s presence in the region.
The secretive state launched a vitriolic attack after the UK government revealed plans to station two Portsmouth-based patrol ships in Asian waters.
HMS Spey and HMS Tamar are expected to depart Portsmouth for their new home in a matter of days. They are expected to remain there for several years.
However, officials from the North Korean Foreign Ministry blasted Whitehall, raging that the government should focus on Brexit rather than ‘restoring its declining status’.
In a statement, the ministry said: ‘The UK, which is intensifying the situation by pushing warships into the distant Asia-Pacific region, is using our “threat” as an excuse.’
Kim Jong-un's isolated nation accused Britain of trying to ‘restore its declining status’ but said its plan will only cause opposition from other countries.
The statement added: ‘It would be better for the UK to focus on the troublesome Brexit outcome rather than risking others unreasonably for the realisation of its political goals.’