The UK has changed its Covid-19 travel rules, placing Indians who are vaccinated with Covishield in the category of ‘unvaccinated’. While it has relaxed the rules for those vaccinated with two doses Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, the same version of the vaccine being manufactured in India by Pune-based Serum Institute of India has been kept out of the list.
What are the UK’s current travel rules?
The UK currently has a system that designates countries in ‘red’, ‘amber’ and ‘green’ list. If a person has been in a ‘red list’ country in the 10 days before arrival in the UK, she has to quarantine for 10 days in a quarantine hotel; and take a Covid-19 test on or before day 2 or after day 8 of quarantining. Even fully vaccinated people have to follow these rules: The penalty is up to £10,000 for violation of quarantine rules, and £5,000 for arriving without a prior negative test.
If a person has been in an ‘amber list’ country in the 10 days before arrival in England, she has to take a Covid-19 test in the three days before travelling to England. If a traveler arrives without proof of a negative Covid-19 test before departure, the fine is £500. After arrival, the traveler has to take a Covid-19 test on day 2. The prior test is necessary for fully vaccinated travelers, too — but they are exempt from quarantine if they have taken the full course of an ‘authorized’ vaccine. ‘Authorized’ includes two doses of the Pfizer, Moderna, or AstraZeneca vaccine (traveler must have the final dose at least 14 days before arrival in England), or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
If the traveller from the amber list is not fully vaccinated with the authorized vaccine, she has to quarantine on arrival at home or in the place where she is staying; take a test on or before day 2 of arrival; and take another test on or after day 8. If the traveler tests positive for Covid-19, she and the household must quarantine for 10 days from the day of the test. If tests on the traveller’s samples detect a ‘variant of concern’, all her contacts too will be asked to take a test. Travellers from ‘green list’ countries too need to take a test Covid-19 test three days before the trip to England; and book a day-2 test after arrival in England. There is blanket exemption from quarantine for the green list, unless the test result is positive on day 2.
What about travelers from India?
The list of authorized vaccines recognizes the full course of the Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna or Janssen vaccines from a relevant public health body in Australia, Antigua, and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Dominica, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea or Taiwan – and even mixing of two-dose vaccines (Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna). Although, India’s vaccination drive predominantly uses Covishield, a version of the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, India has been kept out of the list.
What does excluding Covishield mean?
This effectively means that Indians administered with Covishield, the same vaccine as the UK’s AstraZeneca, have to take a pre-departure Covid-19 test in the 3 days before travelling to England; book and pay for day-2 and day-8 tests to be taken in England; and quarantine at home for 10 days. The traveller can end the quarantine early, if she can pay for a private Covid-19 test through a ‘test to release’ scheme. For instance, if she arrives in England on a Monday, Tuesday will be her first full day of quarantine, and she can opt for a second test not earlier than the fifth day, which will be Saturday. If the result for the day-5 test is negative, she can stop quarantine, but she will still need to take the compulsory day-8 test.
What happens hereafter, then?
Government sources said they are invoking the reciprocity principle. They said a ‘note verbale’ has been sent to the UK Embassy, where they have said UK citizens will also be subject to 10 days’ quarantine. Government sources also told The Indian Express that the UK decision is not related to the addition of Serum Institute of India as an alternative manufacturing site on the ‘Vaxzevria’ licence granted to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Senior Congress leaders Shashi Tharoor and Jairam Ramesh Monday spoke out against the UK government’s decision to consider people vaccinated in India, Africa, South America and several other countries as unvaccinated, and make them go through a 10-day quarantine. Tharoor, Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha MP, has pulled put of a debate at Cambridge Union and withdrawn from the events for the launch of the UK edition of his book “The Battle of Belonging”. Quoting a thread of tweets by UK news analyst Alex Macheras, Tharoor wrote: “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 too termed the country’s new travel policy “absolutely bizarre”. Quoting the same thread, he wrote: “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.” India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has raised with the UK Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss her country’s rules that require vaccinated Indian travellers to be quarantined and urged an early resolution of the issue. “Urged early resolution of quarantine issue in mutual interest,” he tweeted after meeting Truss in New York on Monday as he began holding bilateral meetings with leaders from around the world.