Updated: September 22, 2021 9:43:45 am
The UK’s new post-Covid travel rules, announced last week and slated to become effective from October 4, have been criticised as discriminatory towards travellers from India. The list of countries whose vaccines are recognised in the UK does not include India. This means that Indian travellers, who have received both doses of Covishield, will have to quarantine themselves after arriving in the UK, even though the Serum Institute of India-manufactured vaccine is a variant of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab. Congress leaders have called the move a humiliation of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer — some of them have even described the protocols as racist — and the government has threatened to impose the “reciprocity principle” against British travellers to India. The UK government’s clarification that the restrictions are only administrative measures and visitors from some countries that use the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will also be required to follow the quarantine protocols has not quelled the firestorm. The opprobrium is, no doubt, justified. The way out of the impasse, however, lies in adroit use of diplomatic channels to push the UK to reverse what is clearly an ill-informed decision.
There can be little doubt on the credibility of the vaccine that has driven close to 90 per cent of the world’s largest inoculation project outside of China. Covishield is recognised as a strong shield against Covid by the WHO and health authorities in the US. It is a major constituent of inoculation projects in several parts of the developing world and meets the vaccine passport requirements of at least 18 European countries. But the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care has cited technicalities to exclude Covishield from the National Health Service’s Covid Pass — a proof of vaccination status — even though it recognises the Oxford AstraZeneca shots manufactured under a different brand name, Vaxzevria. The agency has reportedly said it is working to determine which “non-UK vaccine to recognise”. This clarification seems bizarre given that the country’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approves the AstraZeneca jab manufactured by the SII and more than five million shots of these vaccines have been administered in the UK. In fact, in July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson invoked MHRA’s approval to make a pitch for EU vaccine passports for residents of his country who have been administered SII’s AstraZeneca shots.
India is the UK’s sixth largest non-EU trading partner and Indian students — amongst the most discomfited by the new vaccine regulations — are second only to those from China in terms of foreign enrolments in the country’s varsities. Foreign Minister S Jaishankar has rightly told his UK counterpart, Elizabeth Truss, that “an early resolution of the quarantine issue is in the mutual interest of the two countries”. In the coming days, India must continue to press this point and dispel all misgivings about Covishield’s credibility.
This editoral first appeared in the print edition on September 22, 2021 under the title ‘Vaccine bullying’.
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