Why is India upset with UK’s vaccine-linked travel curbs

Indians vaccinated with same vaccine as Oxford AstraZeneca being treated as unvaccinated

Published : 23 Sep 2021 08:58 PM | Updated : 24 Sep 2021 12:17 AM

Lets get this straight: The UK is recognising people as “fully vaccinated” only if they have been jabbed with vaccines approved in the EU, the UK and the US. So these folks don’t have to quarantine and take a series of expensive RT-PCR COVID-19 tests when they come to the UK.

This means the British government apparently thinks that vaccines given to the rest of the world, even those with WHO approval, are just not good enough. So let’s call it what it is: discriminatory.

The UK’s travel rules are simply appalling. Thousands of Indian families and students have suffered from the horrendous quarantine rules and expensive PCR testing they are forced to undergo. More on that in a bit.

What is particularly outrageous is that Indians who are vaccinated with the exact same vaccine as the UK’s Oxford AstraZeneca, called Covishield, are being treated as “unvaccinated” as per the new travel rules that come into effect from Oct. 4, 2021.

There has been no clear reason given for this blatant discrimination. Even more shockingly, India had exported a few million Covishield doses to the UK, which were administered there earlier this year. So is the UK going to say it won’t recognise the vaccination status of its own citizens? Why are they recognised and the rest of us are not?

Outrage in IndiaNow, as outrage erupts in India, and with New Delhi stepping in and lodging a protest, a UK government spokesperson told Gulf News that “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.”

Currently, India is on an “amber list” where travellers have to isolate for 10 days at a place of their choice. They have to do a pre-departure COVID-19 test, then one on Day 2 of entry into the UK and another one on Day 8. This is compulsory and costs a bomb.

If you want to end the quarantine early, then fork up another 200 quid or so and get tested to get out. Three RT-PCR tests in India cost about Rs2,700 but the same costs a whopping Rs22,000 — and that’s the cheapest option. It is downright unfair. This same system will continue when the new rules come into force next month.

Leading the justifiable outrage in India was Senior Congress leader and MP Shashi Tharoor who pulled put of a debate at Cambridge University, tweeting: “Because of this I have pulled out of a debate at the @cambridgeunion & out of launch events for the UK edition of my book #TheBattleOfBelonging (published there as #TheStruggleForIndiasSoul). IT is offensive to ask fully vaccinated Indians to quarantine. The Brits are reviewing!”

Rajya Sabha Congress MP Jairam Ramesh has also described the country’s new travel policy “absolutely bizarre” and said: “Absolutely bizarre considering Covishield was originally developed in the UK and The Serum Institute, Pune has supplied to that country too! This smacks of racism.”

Issue of vaccine certification

Some reports have suggested that the problem may have to do with vaccine certification in India. But as many experts have pointed out, India’s COWIN website is excellent and has verification with a QR code. This is unlike the US, where reports say many people have got their vaccine certificates on handwritten paper with cards even sold on eBay. Apparently this is acceptable to the Brits.

The US has announced it will open travel for fully vaccinated people from a long list of countries that includes India but the details are awaited. Will they allow tourists? Or only those with family?

Indian tourists are travelling meanhile to European countries which have recognised Covishield, like Switzerland and France. Germany says it has simplified travel rules for Indians, but several people I spoke to said they were facing difficulties getting a tourist visa due to a backlog in processing at the embassy.

COVID-19 has amplified just how unequal the world is. As the West races to fully vaccinate its citizens, hoarding vaccines in many cases, large parts of the world are struggling with vaccination and vaccine supplies.

The travel rules have only underlined this divide with the West only exposing themselves. It is time for India to hit back in the same coin. What if India makes UK travellers to India quarantine for 10 days and pay for multiple tests?

Nidhi Razdan is an award-winning journalist. She was the Executive Editor of NDTV. She has reported on Indian politics and diplomacy. 

Source: Gulf News