New Delhi: The United Kingdom’s decision to impose new Covid-related travel restrictions for Indians despite easing their rules is not because of which vaccines are being used, but the certification process on the CoWin website, ThePrint has learnt.
Starting 4 October, the UK will not allow even fully vaccinated individuals to travel freely without quarantine from ‘red list’ countries.
At present India is on the ‘amber’ list of countries and is subjected to a few restrictions. But after 4 October, the UK will move to a new system and it’s not clear in which list will India come as there will be only two lists then — ‘red list’ and the rest of the world. India was shifted to the ‘amber’ list from the ‘red’ on 8 August.
But India has not been able to make it the list of countries whose vaccinations will be accepted under the changed rules. The issue is that the UK has said it will not recognise those traveling from India as being fully vaccinated, even those inoculated with Covishield, developed by UK’s Oxford University and British-Swedish pharma company AstraZeneca and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.
According to a source, while there are no technical issues with Covishield, the UK-developed India-manufactured vaccine that has been predominantly used in India, the UK government has raised doubts on the CoWin certification process. Technical-level talks are currently underway on this matter.
The source also said that the UK is also facing issues with India in terms of obtaining ordinary tourist visas due to stringent Covid-related rules. The UK believes once it approves the certification process, a large number of Indians would want to travel to that country.
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar met his UK counterpart Elizabeth Truss on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York Tuesday and asked the country for an “early resolution” to the imbroglio,
“Pleased to meet new UK Foreign Secretary @trussliz. Discussed the progress of Roadmap 2030. Appreciated her contribution on the trade side. Exchanged views on developments in Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific. Urged early resolution of the quarantine issue in mutual interest,” Jaishankar said in a tweet.
Pleased to meet new UK Foreign Secretary @trussliz.
Discussed the progress of Roadmap 2030. Appreciated her contribution on the trade side.
Exchanged views on developments in Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific.
Urged early resolution of quarantine issue in mutual interest. pic.twitter.com/pc49NS7zcw
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) September 21, 2021
Foreign secretary addresses issue
Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla spoke about the issue in a media briefing in New Delhi Tuesday before leaving for the US with PM Narendra Modi.
“Here is a vaccine – Covishield – which is a licensed product of a UK company manufactured in India, of which we have supplied five million doses to the UK at the request of the government of the UK. We understand that this has been used in their national health system. Therefore, non-recognition of Covishield is a discriminatory policy and does impact those of our citizens travelling to the UK,” Shringla said.
The foreign secretary said that EAM Jaishankar has raised the matter “strongly” with his counterpart, and that “certain assurances have been given” that the issue will be resolved.
“This issue should be resolved at mutual satisfaction,” Shringla said, adding that India is now also looking at a mutual recognition of Covid-19 vaccine certificates in order to address issues of similar concern in the future.
Another source told ThePrint that the matter has been raised even at the level of high commissioners, but it seems this decision is unlikely to be altered any time soon, adding that New Delhi has also cautioned London of “reciprocal action”.
According to the second source, the UK has nevertheless assured India that this is an ongoing matter and will be taken up for review in an ongoing manner, as it takes further steps to ease travel restrictions.
Sources in the UK government said the country has kept visa rules “under constant review” throughout the pandemic to keep borders open whilst gradually and safely restarting travel.
“We will continue to review the scientific evidence on other vaccines and will keep the health measures under regular review. Visa applications from Indian travellers for all categories continue to be processed and you do not need to be vaccinated to travel to the UK,” the source said.
‘Red list’ and rest of the world
The UK had announced last week that from 4 October, it will do away with the previous system of maintaining red, amber and green lists of countries, based on which travel and quarantine rules differ.
From 4 October, the UK will only have two lists — the ‘red list’ and the rest of the world. Travellers from ‘red’ countries, regardless of whether they are vaccinated, unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, would have to take a pre-departure Covid test (no less than three days before date of arrival), spend 10 days in quarantine, undergo two Covid tests on the second and eighth day from arrival, and fill out a passenger locator form 48 hours before they reach UK.
For India, which is currently on the ‘amber list’, this would mean greater restrictions for travellers, and also additional cost.
If a person travelling from an ‘amber’ country arrives in the UK without pre-departure Covid test, he/she has to pay 500 pounds. And for such countries, whether the traveller is fully vaccinated or not, he/she has to take Covid tests on the second and eighth day from arrival. Additionally, they have to go for self-quarantine for 10 days, which adds to the cost.
Four vaccines are currently approved for use in the UK — the ones developed by Moderna, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech, and Janssen, which will be available later this year.
In India, three vaccines are in use currently — Covishield, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, and the Russian-made Sputnik V.
The vaccination certificate available from the CoWin website clearly mentions the name of the shot administered. The bulk of the vaccinations in India have been done using Serum Institute of India’s Covishield, which is why the UK’s stance has left officials stumped.
“We are talking about the same vaccine — UK too is using the AstraZeneca vaccine to a very significant extent. SII has also been supplying to other countries through COVAX. Those supplies are set to resume next month. We can understand there may be some hesitancy on Covaxin till the WHO nod comes through. But even that should be in latest by next month. I cannot think of any possible scientific rationale for this discrimination,” said a senior health ministry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)
(This report has been updated with Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s comments)