Amidst Criticism, UK Says it Is 'Engaging With India' on Travel Rules; US to Ease Restrictions

The US said it will allow in vaccinated passengers from 33 countries including India from November, but details on which vaccines will be accepted were not immediately available.

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New Delhi: The UK on Monday said it is engaging with India to explore how it could expand the recognition of the COVID-19 vaccine certification issued by Indian authorities amid criticism of the new British travel rules.

The comments by a spokesperson in the British High Commission came amid concerns in India over the latest COVID-19-related travel restrictions announced by the United Kingdom.

According to new rules, Indian travellers who have received both doses of the Covishield vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII) will be considered unvaccinated and will have to undergo self-isolation for 10 days.

Asked about the concerns in India over the new rules that will come into effect from October 4, the British High Commission spokesperson said the UK is engaged with India on the issue and is committed to opening up international travel again “as soon as is practicable”.

“The UK is committed to opening up international travel again as soon as is practicable and this announcement is a further step to enable people to travel more freely again, in a safe and sustainable way, while protecting public health,” the spokesperson said.

“We are engaging with the Government of India to explore how we could expand the UK recognition of vaccine certification to people vaccinated by a relevant public health body in India,” the official added.

From October 4, the current “traffic light system” of red, amber, green countries based on levels of COVID-19 risk will be replaced by one red list of countries.

The scrapping of the amber list, which is what India is currently on, means a reduced PCR test cost burden only for some travellers.

The expanded list of countries whose vaccines are recognised in the UK does not include India. It means Indians vaccinated with Covishield, the SII-produced Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, would be required to undergo compulsory PCR tests as well as self-isolation.

People familiar with the development said the UK has kept visa rules under constant review throughout the pandemic to keep borders open, while gradually and safely restarting travel. “The UK will continue to review the scientific evidence on other vaccines and keep the health measures under regular review,” said one of the persons cited above.

The people said visa applications from Indian travellers for all categories continue to be processed and they do not need to be vaccinated to travel to the UK.

They said regardless of an Indian national’s vaccination status, the person travelling from India to the UK must take a pre-departure test and a COVID-19 test on or before day two of the visit, and on or after day eight, and self-isolate for 10 days. Travellers can also choose to shorten their home quarantine period to around five days under the “Test to Release” service.

The UK’s news ruled had come under serious criticism in India, with Congress leaders like Shashi Tharoor and Jairam Ramesh saying that the country’s refusal to recognise Covishield was nothing short of racism.

US to ease restrictions for vaccinated travellers

Meanwhile, the US too announced on Monday that it will be easing travel restrictions for vaccinated passengers from 33 countries – including India – starting November. However, no details were immediately available on what specific vaccines will be recognised.

The decision, announced by White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients, marked an abrupt shift for President Joe Biden’s administration, which said last week it was not the right time to lift any restrictions amid rising COVID-19 cases.

The United States had lagged many other countries in lifting such restrictions, and allies welcomed the move. The US restrictions have barred travellers from most of the world including tens of thousands of foreign nationals with relatives or business links in the US.

The US will admit fully vaccinated air travellers from the 26 so-called Schengen countries in Europe including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Greece, as well as Britain, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil. The unprecedented US restrictions have barred non-US citizens who were in those countries within the past 14 days.

Restrictions on non-US citizens were first imposed on air travelelrs from China in January 2020 by then-President Donald Trump and then extended to dozens of other countries, without any clear metrics for how and when to lift them.

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Zients did not give a precise start date for the new rules beyond saying “early November,” and many details of the new policy are still being decided.

Separately on Monday, the United States extended its pandemic-related restrictions at land borders with Canada and Mexico that bar nonessential travel such as tourism through Octover 21. It gave no indication if it would apply the new vaccine rules to those land border crossings.

The United States has allowed foreign air travellers from more than 150 countries throughout the pandemic, a policy that critics said made little sense because some countries with high COVID-19 rates were not on the restricted list, while some on the list had the pandemic more under control.

Monday’s action means COVID-19 vaccine requirements will now apply to nearly all foreign nationals flying to the US – including those not subject to the prior restrictions.

Americans traveling from abroad who are not vaccinated will face tougher rules than vaccinated citizens, including needing to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within a day of travel and proof of purchasing a viral test to be taken after arrival.

(With agency inputs)