After issuing its revised international travel advisory on Wednesday, the United Kingdom is facing a severe backlash for what many have dubbed its “selective vaccine policy,” in which it approved several formulations of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccine, including the Serum Institute’s Covishield shot. However, it has kept nations like India, which uses Covishield, on the list of countries where visitors must be quarantined when they arrive in the UK.
According to the current advice, Britain has no issues with the formulation of the Covishield vaccine but has issues with India’s Covid-19 vaccination certification offered through the CoWIN app.
The UK’s new rules have sparked a debate in India, with many politicians blasting the “discriminatory policy” and ambassadors warning of formal retaliation.
Here’s a rundown of the entire debate, broken down into ten points:
- On Wednesday, September 22, the UK government amended its international travel advice, listing the Covid-19 doses as “authorised vaccinations” for visitors arriving in the UK from anywhere in the world beginning October 4.
- Covishield, a formulation of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine developed by the Serum Institute of India, was added to the new list (SII). In essence, if a passenger is inoculated with a complete dose of any of these vaccines, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or the Janssen shot – the UK will consider them to be ‘fully vaccinated.’ It will also look into the different formulations of the four vaccines described above, such as AstraZeneca’s Covishield, AstraZeneca’s Vaxzevria, and Takeda’s Takeda (Moderna).
- However, despite keeping Covishield, a SII-manufactured vaccine, on its list of “approved vaccines,” the UK kept India on the list of nations whose visitors must be quarantined for 10 days when they arrive in the UK. According to UK officials, this was done due to difficulties with the certification procedure in India.
- For comparison, London has cleared 18 countries for inclusion on the UK’s “green list,” including Denmark, Canada, and Antigua & Barbuda. Travellers who have been vaccinated in these countries – even with Covishield – do not need to follow necessary quarantine requirements while flying to the UK. However, according to India’s vaccination certificate through the CoWIN app, a tourist travelling to the UK from India will still be subjected to a 10-day required home quarantine, even if they have been vaccinated with the same Covishield vaccine.
- Diplomats on the Indian side have described this as a “discriminatory policy.” Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla warned earlier this week that if the UK’s Covishield policy was not changed, India could implement “reciprocal measures.” Despite accepting Covishield as an approved vaccine, the new British warning published a day later did not make it any easier for Indian travellers travelling to the UK.
- “We’re convinced Covishield is not a problem,” said Alex Ellis, the British high commissioner to India, on Wednesday. With the developers of the CoWIN and NHS applications, we’ve been having deep technical discussions concerning certification for both apps.
- However, Ellis stated that the United Kingdom wishes to make travel as simple as possible. In an interview with a television channel, he added, “We listen very attentively to what the Indian government says, but ministers have to make judgments, and they have been clear that Covishield is not an issue.”
- National Health Authority CEO RS Sharma, on the other hand, claimed that he was unaware of any UK concerns about India’s Covid-19 vaccine certification, claiming that the Co-WIN system is WHO-compliant. “I am not aware of any concerns voiced by the United Kingdom,” he said, according to the PTI news agency. “On September 2, the British high commissioner met with me and inquired about the Co-WIN system.”
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his video remarks at the global Covid Summit hosted by US President Joe Biden on Wednesday that international travel should be made easier through mutual recognition of vaccine certificates, despite several countries adopting different sets of rules to allow foreigners to enter their territory in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has caused unprecedented devastation.
- At a meeting in New York, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar raised the matter of Covishield-vaccinated travellers being obliged to quarantine in the UK with newly-appointed British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. In a tweet announcing his meeting with the UK foreign secretary earlier on Tuesday, the foreign minister said, “Urged early resolution of quarantine problem in mutual interest.”