London/New Delhi: The UK government on Wednesday issued an updated international travel advisory to include AstraZeneca Covishield among the eligible COVID-19 vaccine formulations but kept India out of the 18 countries on an approved vaccinations list, requiring Indians to follow rules set out for “non-vaccinated” travellers.
Despite the inclusion of Covishield, Indian travellers are not exempt from the quarantine rules under the UK’s new international travel norms that will come into force from October 4, with the British officials in New Delhi maintaining that the main issue is vaccine certification and not the vaccine and that both India and the UK are holding talks to mutually resolve the matter.
There is no official reaction from India on the inclusion of Covishield to the approved list of vaccines by the UK.
According to the UK rules, Indian travellers who have received both doses of the Covishield vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII) will be considered unvaccinated and will have to undergo self-isolation for 10 days.
Developed by researchers at the University of Oxford and pharma giant AstraZeneca, Covishield is one of the two anti-COVID vaccines used by India — Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin being the other –in its vaccination drive across the country.
There was widespread condemnation of the UK’s decision in India to not cover Covishield under the reviewed international travel norms and the government on Tuesday warned of “reciprocal measures” if its concerns relating to the vaccine certification are not addressed by October 4 when these norms come into effect.
In a statement, UK High Commissioner to India Alex Ellis said,””We’re clear Covishield is not a problem…”
“We have been having detailed technical discussions regarding certification, with the builders of the CoWIN app and the NHS app, about both apps. They’re happening at a rapid pace, to ensure that both countries mutually recognise the vaccine certificates issued by each other,” he added.
National Health Authority CEO RS Sharma in New Delhi said he was not aware of any concerns being raised by the UK about COVID vaccine certification by India, asserting that the Co-WIN system is WHO-compliant.
“I am not aware of any concerns being raised by the UK. The British High Commissioner met me on September 2 and wanted to know details about the Co-WIN system.
“So we connected their technical team with our technical teams which had two rounds of discussion with the second one being just yesterday. They have conveyed to us there is no need for any further discussion as all information has been exchanged between the two parties,” Sharma told PTI.
“We are engaging with the government of India to explore how we could expand UK recognition of vaccine certification to people vaccinated by a relevant public health body in India,” said a spokesperson in the British High Commission in New Delhi on Wednesday.
“The UK is committed to opening up international travel again as soon as is practicable and this announcement is a further step to enable people to travel more freely again, in a safe and sustainable way, while protecting public health,” the spokesperson said.
Ellis also said that the UK is open to travel and it was already seeing a lot of people going from India to the UK, be it tourists, business people or students.
Over 62,500 student visas have been issued in the year ending June 2021, which is an increase of almost 30 per cent as compared to the previous year. We want to make the process of travelling as easy as possible, he said.
The new travel advisory came amid much confusion over the process for Indian travellers as the advisory states: Formulations of the 4 listed vaccines, such as AstraZeneca Covishield, AstraZeneca Vaxzevria and Moderna Takeda, qualify as approved vaccines.
However, UK government officials have indicated that Indian travellers to the UK must follow the non-vaccinated rules , which means Indian passengers must take a COVID test three days before departure and book in advance for two COVID tests to be taken upon arrival in England.
On arrival in England, the passengers must self-isolate in the place they have confirmed on their passenger locator form for 10 days. A privately paid-for “Test to Release” option does exist at day five, which allows an early end to the 10-day quarantine with a negative PCR test.
The upcoming rules are effectively not going to change India’s current amber list status, even though from October 4 England’s traffic light system of red, amber and green countries based on levels of COVID-19 risk is to be officially scrapped.
Despite Covishield being one of the main vaccines being administered in India and falling within the UK’s eligible formulations, it would not offer any advantage to Indian travellers planning a UK visit.
Covishield and other Indian vaccines being covered as eligible would mean that self-isolation and a pre-departure PCR test is no longer required as long as vaccinated travellers pre-book a day two test post-arrival in England and complete the compulsory passenger locator form in advance.
From October 4, travellers from 18 additional countries with eligible vaccines, including Australia, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia, will fall under the UK’s list of recognised jabs of Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna or Janssen vaccines. The UK’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said this list is reviewed fortnightly.
The Indian government has said it is working with several countries to recognise India’s vaccine certification on a mutual reciprocal basis.
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