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New Delhi: The UK government on Wednesday, September 22, added Covishield, the India-manufactured Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, to an updated international travel advisory, a day after the Indian government warned of reciprocal measures over discriminatory action against a UK-licensed product.
Indian travellers vaccinated with two doses of Covishield will, however, still have to undergo 10 days of quarantine in the UK even as the vaccine has been approved under the revised British guidelines for travel, according to UK officials. PTI has reported unnamed officials as having said the main issue is vaccine certification and that both India and the UK are holding talks to mutually resolve the matter.
There was widespread condemnation of the Serum Institute of India manufactured vaccines not being included in a list of eligible COVID-19 vaccines recognised under Britain’s reviewed international travel norms, effective from October 4.
Formulations of the 4 listed vaccines, such as AstraZeneca Covishield, AstraZeneca Vaxzevria and Moderna Takeda, qualify as approved vaccines, reads the advisory from the UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) and Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
‘Have to have confidence in CoWIN app’
The UK High Commissioner Alex Ellis, in an interview with NDTV, which the news channel has been teasing on its Twitter handle, has noted that the CoWIN app is what poses a problem, and not Covishield itself.
CoWIN is India’s technological platform for the vaccination drive, that issues vaccine certificates and offers opportunity to book vaccine slots.
“Basically the builders of the apps…India has a CoWIN app and we have a NHS app in the UK…those folks have been talking to each other, ‘how does your app work, what are the security protocols’…all this because we hope it would be mutual, because our aim is to get India – and not just India but lots of other countries – on to the list where if you’ve been jabbed by these jabs, you can come and you don’t have to quarantine…” the high commissioner tells NDTV in the clip uploaded.
“What we are doing now is talking to the experts who produced the app and asking, ‘Okay, how does this work, how do we make sure it works?’ Because we have to have confidence, obviously, just as India would have to have confidence in the UK, from our app, to make sure, ‘This looks okay’,” Ellis said.
The Union government has claimed that the app has seen interest from 76 countries and is keen on licensing it for free, ThePrint has reported.
In July, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had offered CoWIN as a “digital public good” to the world, asserting that it has been committed to sharing its expertise and resources with the global community in combating the pandemic.
From October 4, England’s current traffic light system of red, amber and green countries based on levels of COVID-19 risk will be scrapped and replaced with one red list only. However, until this latest update, Indians vaccinated with any vaccines in India including Covishield were not recognised as vaccinated under the UK’s eligibility criteria.
“We have to see how it goes. But if we do not get satisfaction we would be within our rights to impose reciprocal measures,” Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said in response to a question on the issue on Tuesday in New Delhi.
The basic issue is that here is a vaccine, Covishield, which is a licensed product of the UK company, manufactured in India of which we have supplied five million doses to the UK at the request of the government of the UK. We understand that this is being used under the national health system, and, therefore, non-recognition of Covishield is a discriminatory policy and does impact those of our citizens travelling to the UK, he said.
The National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU) UK, whose patron Congress Party MP Shashi Tharoor cancelled his planned UK visit in retaliation of the “offensive” rules, was among the many organisations in the UK rallying against the policy that would impact thousands of Indian students.
Delighted that Covishield has now been recognised by the UK government, and that all the lobbying has worked, said NISAU chair Sanam Arora.
“Though the vaccine is now approved, India is not yet in the list of approved countries making it apparent that the 10-day quarantine and all associated rules still apply for other Indian vaccines. We will continue to urge authorities to take this to its natural conclusion,” she said.
From October 4, travellers from 17 additional countries with eligible vaccines, including Australia, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia, will fall under the UK’s list of recognised jabs of Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna or Janssen vaccines. The DHSC has said this list is reviewed fortnightly.
Under the new rules from October 4, unvaccinated Indian travellers or those not vaccinated with Covishield must take a COVID test three days before departure and book in advance for two COVID tests to be taken upon arrival in England.
On arrival in England, the passengers must self-isolate in the place they have confirmed on their passenger locator form for 10 days. A privately paid-for “Test to Release” option does exist at day five, which allows an early end to the 10-day quarantine with a negative PCR test.
The Indian government has said it is working with several countries to recognise India’s vaccine certification on a mutual reciprocal basis .
(With PTI inputs)
Note: This article has been updated with news on the UK high commissioner’s interview.