On a day that India threatened to retaliate against new British travel rules putting those who are vaccinated with Covishield in the category of the “unvaccinated”, the US said it would open up to “fully vaccinated” travellers November onward.
The New York Times quoted Jeff Zients, the White House pandemic coordinator, as saying international travel was “critical to connecting families and friends, to fuelling small and large businesses, and to promoting the open exchange of ideas and culture”.
Reports in the American media said the rule would apply to most countries including India. The US currently allows only its citizens and members of their immediate families, green card holders, and those with national interest exemptions (NIE), if they have been in India in the previous two weeks.
Zients told PBS that international travellers would require proof of full vaccination and a negative Covid-19 test up to 72 hours prior to departure for the US.
However, it was not immediately clear whether tourists too would be allowed to enter the US.
Also, ABC News quoted Zients as saying that while the 14-day quarantine would go for fully vaccinated international travellers, the specific vaccines that qualify a traveller as “fully vaccinated” would be determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the national public health agency of the US.
This point about which vaccines are acceptable, is at the heart of a diplomatic firestorm that erupted between the UK Under rules notified by the UK on September 17, only those who are inoculated “under an approved vaccination program in the UK, Europe, US, or UK vaccine programme overseas” will be considered fully vaccinated.
The list of countries whose vaccines are recognised in the UK does not include India, which means that individuals who are vaccinated with Covishield — the Indian variant of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured under licence in India — would continue to be subject to the restrictions that apply to the unvaccinated.
Sources told The Indian Express on Monday that New Delhi would invoke the “reciprocity principle” if the UK did not review its decision. A note verbale has been sent to the British High Commission, saying British citizens too would be put in mandatory 10-day quarantine, the sources said.
The discrimination against Indian travellers to the UK is also being taken up at the diplomatic level, sources said. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is likely to speak to the newly-appointed British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, they said. The health authorities of the two countries are in touch as well, it is learned.
Under the new international travel rules that go into effect on October 4, travellers who are not recognised as being fully vaccinated with authorised vaccines and certificates will have to take a pre-departure RT-PCR test, further RT-PCR tests on Day 2 and Day 8 after their arrival in Britain, and self-isolate at their given address for 10 days after entry.
The rules consider those who have got jabs under public health bodies of a host of countries — Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Dominica, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan — as fully vaccinated.
Under the new rules, the UK has replaced its current ‘traffic light’ system of red, amber, and green countries based on levels of Covid-19 risk with a single ‘red’ list. India is on the amber list currently.
The two-tier system is expected to stay in place until the end of the year, with a review planned for early in the new year.
Eighteen countries in Europe have so far approved the Covishield vaccine as proof of immunity against Covid-19. They are France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Ireland, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Romania, and Slovenia.
The overwhelming majority of Indians — almost 88 per cent, making up 72 crore doses out of the total 81 crore doses that have been administered — have got Covishield. Most of the remaining doses administered (about 9 crore) have been of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin.
Covishield is recognised by the WHO, and the United States and most other countries consider it as a safe and approved vaccine. Covaxin is approved by only a handful of countries.
Government sources told The Indian Express that the UK’s decision to not approve Covishield was “purely administrative”, and that countries where the vaccines made by Pfizer or Moderna have been given, are also impacted.
Congress leaders and former Union ministers Anand Sharma, Jairam Ramesh, and Shashi Tharoor on Monday slammed the UK’s new travel rules.
“UK Government’s decision on not recognising fully vaccinated Indians is discriminatory, Racist and deserves strongest condemnation. Covishield is the same as Astrazeneca in the UK & manufactured under license by Serum Institute of India and exported to European countries including the UK. WHO has approved it too. A humiliation of India — the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. Indian students & citizens are being harassed and fleeced for exorbitant tests. Urging @PMOIndia to take a stand against UK’s double standards & cancel the proposed India-UK Trade talks,” Sharma posted on Twitter.
Tharoor said it was “ offensive to ask fully vaccinated Indians to quarantine”, and that because of the restrictions, he had pulled out of a debate at The Cambridge Union debating society and from launch events for the UK edition of his new book.
Jairam tweeted saying the UK decision was “absolutely bizarre” and “smacks of racism”.
The Indian government has previously said it is working with several countries to recognise India’s vaccine certification on a “mutual reciprocal basis”.
India’s High Commissioner to the UK Gaitri Issar Kumar had flagged this issue during the inaugural session of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) annual summit last week.
“Our governments have agreed that for early economic recovery it’s absolutely necessary to work on recognition of vaccine certificates to facilitate free movement of our people…,” Kumar said.
The matter had also been raised by Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla during his visit to the UK.
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