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UK updates, Covishield okay, not jab certificate; govt says not told reason

Indian travellers will continue to be treated as “unvaccinated” and will still have to take a pre-departure RT-PCR test, further RT-PCR tests on Day 2 and Day 8 of arrival, and self-isolate at their destination address for 10 days after entry.

Written by Shubhajit Roy , Kaunain Sheriff M | New Delhi |
Updated: September 23, 2021 7:23:55 am
Covid-19A beneficiary gets a Covid-19 vaccine shot in Navi Mumbai. (Express photo: Amit Chakravarty)

A day after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar raised the issue of non-recognition of Covishield with newly appointed British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, the UK updated its travel guidance, clarifying that the formulations of Covishield qualify it as an “approved” vaccine but not the Covid-19 certificates issued by India.

This means that Indian travellers will continue to be treated as “unvaccinated” and will still have to take a pre-departure RT-PCR test, further RT-PCR tests on Day 2 and Day 8 of arrival, and self-isolate at their destination address for 10 days after entry.

British authorities are in touch with the team in India managing the vaccine certification through CoWIN.

Alex Ellis, the British High Commissioner to India, said: “We are clear Covishield is not a problem. The UK is open to travel and we are already seeing a lot of people going from India to the UK… Over 62,500 student visas have been issued in the year ending June 2021… We want to make the process of travelling as easy as possible… We have been having detailed technical discussions regarding certification, with the builders of the CoWIN app and the NHS app.”

Dr R S Sharma, the CEO, National Health Authority (NHA), which has designed the CoWIN IT infrastructure, told The Indian Express they have not received “any official communication” from the UK government. “I am not aware of any concern being raised,” Sharma said, adding that while he had been approached by the British High Commission saying ” the NHS was interested in knowing about CoWIN”, no concerns had been raised in the two meetings held.

“We had meetings on September 16 and September 21. They explained their system and we explained our system. They sent a message that technical discussions have been completed and to their satisfaction. There were no concerns,” Sharma said.

The CEO added, “There can be no concern because our product is as perfect as it can be. It is QR code-based and absolutely verifiable. Its authenticity can be verified; its integrity can be verified.”

Sharma further said India’s vaccination certificate was WHO-compliant, except on the minor issue of providing complete details of birth. “We don’t collect things that are not relevant. We only collect the year of birth, because the passport already has the date of birth.”

Even on that issue, Sharma said, the CoWIN platform allows travellers to enter complete details for the purpose of international travel.

A British High Commission spokesperson said, “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.”

From October 4, England’s current ‘traffic light’ system to screen those entering the country from red, amber or green countries — based on levels of Covid-19 risk — will be scrapped and replaced with a single red list. So, from that day, besides the US and Europe, travellers from 17 countries with eligible vaccines, including Australia, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia, will be cleared to enter the UK if they have been vaccinated with one of the four approved vaccines — Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna, or Janssen. India is not yet on that list.

On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla had said that Jaishankar met British Foreign Secretary Truss in New York and raised the issue “strongly”, calling it a “discriminatory policy”.

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