The United kingdom made changes to its travel advisory—a day after many people criticised the guidelines and Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar raised the issue of Covishield's non-recognition with British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss—stressing that the Serum Institute of India's vaccine formulations constitutes it as an "approved" jab.
But the new guidelines have 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 guidelines, Britain has no problem with the formulation of the Covishield vaccine—the Indian version of Oxford-AstraZeneca jab—but has issues with India's Covid-19 vaccination certification offered through the CoWIN app.
The British High Commissioner to India, Alex Ellis said: "We're clear Covishield is not a problem. The UK is open to travel and we're already seeing a lot of people going from India to the UK, be it tourists, business people or students."
"We have been having detailed technical discussions regarding certification, with the builders of the CoWIN app and the NHS app, about both apps. They're happening at a rapid pace, to ensure that both countries mutually recognise the vaccine certificates issued by each other," added Ellis.
The Controversial Guidelines
The British government published an international travel advisory on 22 September, listing the Covid-19 shots as authorised vaccinations for visitors arriving in the country from anywhere in the world beginning 4 October, and India's Covishield was added to the revised list.
According to the new advisory, if a passenger receives a complete dose of any of these vaccinations — Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or the Janssen shot—the British authority will consider them as "fully vaccinated". It will also take into account the various formulations of the four vaccines, such as AstraZeneca's Covishield, AstraZeneca's Vaxzevria, and Takeda Pharmaceutical Company's (Japan) Moderna vaccine, TAK-919.
Despite keeping SII's Covishield on its list of approved vaccinations, the UK kept India on the list of countries whose visitors need to be quarantined after arrival. It means that Indian travellers will be considered as "unvaccinated" and will be required to perform a pre-departure RT-PCR test, additional RT-PCR tests on Day 2 and Day 8 of arrival, as well as self-isolate for 10 days at their destination location.
According to British officials, this was done due to difficulties with the certification procedure in India. As per the reports, the British government is in contact with India's CoWIN team, which is in charge of vaccination certification.
However, British authorities have certified 18 countries for inclusion on the United Kingdom's "green list," including Denmark, Canada and Antigua and Barbuda. It means that travellers who have been vaccinated in these countries—even with Covishield—are not needed to follow quarantine requirements after reaching the UK. Diplomats on the Indian side have described this as a "discriminatory policy".
India's Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla warned earlier this week that if Britain's Covishield policy was not changed, India could implement "reciprocal measures". After facing backlash for what many people called selective vaccine policy, British authorities changed the advisory.
But the problem is that despite accepting Covishield as an approved vaccine, the new British guidelines published on 22 September did not make it any easier for Indian travellers. In an interview, Ellis said: "We listen very carefully to what the Indian government says but ministers have to take decisions and they have been clear that Covishield is not an issue."
RS Sharma, the CEO of the National Health Authority, stated he was unaware of any concerns made by the British government concerning India's Covid-19 vaccine certification, claiming that the Co-WIN system is WHO-compliant.
According to Sharma: "I am not aware of any concerns being raised by the UK. The British High Commissioner met me on 2 September and wanted to know details about the Co-WIN system. So we connected their technical team with our technical teams which had two rounds of discussion with the second one being just yesterday [21 September]."
"They have conveyed to us there is no need for any further discussion as all information has been exchanged between the two parties," he told PTI.
According to a report by NDTV, the UK government has stated that all countries must achieve "minimum criteria" for Covid-19 vaccination certification. Additionally, the authorities have confirmed that it is working with India on a "phased approach" to its international travel norms.
Following widespread confusion regarding the revised travel guidelines, the British government sources confirmed on 22 September that additions or revisions to the approved nation listings are being kept under "regular consideration". But as per the report, there was not enough clarity on the criteria for accepting a country's vaccine certification.
A British government spokesperson said: "Our top priority remains protecting public health and reopening travel in a safe and sustainable way, which is why vaccine certification from all countries must meet the minimum criteria taking into account public health and wider considerations. We continue to work with international partners, including India, to roll out our phased approach."
In response to a public backlash that India's vaccination certification was not recognised despite Covishield being one of two main vaccines administered in India, according to the report, the British government sources would only say that the rollout of the inbound vaccination programme to other countries and territories was always planned to be a "phased approach," building on the accomplishments of pilots with the United States and Europe.
However, this week Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that international travel should be made easier through mutual recognition of vaccine certificates, amid several countries adopting different sets of rules to allow foreigners to enter their territory in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
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