India protests exclusion of its vaccines under new UK travel rules

A vial of the Covishield vaccine in Mumbai: The local version of the AstraZeneca vaccine is approved by the WHO for emergency use.   © Reuters

KIRAN SHARMA, Nikkei staff writer | India

NEW DELHI — India on Tuesday slammed a new British COVID-19 travel policy that will still require fully vaccinated passengers from India to quarantine as “discriminatory,” with Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla warning of “reciprocal measures.”

New U.K. rules that come into effect on Oct. 4 will allow vaccinated arrivals from a host of countries including Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and others to enter without an isolation period. Those coming from India, however, will be obliged to quarantine for 10 days.

This is despite India using Covishield — the local version of U.K.-based AstraZeneca’s jab, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India — as one of the main vaccines in the inoculation drive launched in mid-January. The vaccine is on the World Health Organization’s list of jabs approved for emergency use.

Speaking to reporters, Shringla argued it was ironic that Covishield is a “licensed product of a U.K. company manufactured in India” and that India “supplied 5 million doses [Covishield] to the U.K. at the request of [their] government.” Yet Britain does not recognize Indians who have received the shots as being vaccinated.

“We understand that this [vaccine is being used] in their national health system and therefore non-recognition of Covishield is a discriminatory policy and does impact those of our citizens traveling to the U.K.,” he said.

Indian news agency PTI quoted a British High Commission spokesperson as saying that the U.K. is “engaging” with India on how to “expand the U.K. recognition of vaccine certification to people vaccinated by a relevant public health body in India.”

Shringla said India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, who is currently in the U.S., “raised this issue strongly with his [U.K.] counterpart and … certain assurances have been given that this issue would be resolved.”

Shringla added that India has “offered some of our partner countries the option of a mutual recognition of vaccine certification but these are reciprocal measures,” he said. “As we go along, we’ll have to see how it goes but if we don’t get satisfaction, we would be within our rights to impose reciprocal measures.”

The secretary’s remarks followed a tweet from Jaishankar, saying he discussed the issue with new British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

“Urged early resolution of quarantine issue in mutual interest,” Jaishankar tweeted.

With over 33.5 million confirmed cases so far, India is the world’s second-worst-hit country by the pandemic, after the U.S. It has administered nearly 820 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines — mainly Covishield and the homegrown Covaxin. More than 60% of the adult population of 940 million has received at least one shot, while over 20% have had two doses.

India has set an ambitious goal to fully immunize all people over 18 years of age by the end of December.

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