The United Kingdom (Britain) today added Covishield to its list of approved Covid-19 vaccines for travel to the country even as there remains some confusion over the British government’s vaccine recognition process for Indian travellers. Despite Covishield being on an updated international travel advisory, India is not yet on a list of 17 approved countries.
The UK’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said today that they are unable to confirm this and will require further clarifications even though the advisory states, “Formulations of the four listed vaccines, such as AstraZeneca Covishield, AstraZeneca Vaxzevria and Moderna Takeda, qualify as approved vaccines.”
Britain was condemned widely until today for not including the Serum Institute of India-manufactured vaccines in a list of eligible Covid-19 vaccines recognised under the European country’s reviewed international travel norms, effective from 4 October.
In its revised guidelines, the UK said formulations of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, including Covishield, would qualify as approved vaccines. It said a traveller must have had a complete course of the approved vaccine at least 14 days before arriving in England.
The British revision comes days after India raised strong objections to the non-recognition of Covishield, manufactured by Pune-based Serum Institute of India, by the UK. India called it a “discriminatory policy” that impacted Indian citizens wishing to travel to the UK.
Describing the non-recognition of Covishield by the UK as a discriminatory policy, India had on Tuesday warned Britain of “reciprocal measures’’ if the latter didn’t address India’s concerns over its new travel rules. Foreign secretary Harsh Shringla said the issue had also been taken up by foreign minister S Jaishankar with the UK authorities. The friction point has arisen at a time when India-UK ties are seen on an upswing with the two sides working to complete a trade pact. The new rules are seen to seriously inconvenience Indian travellers.
“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 UK,” said Shringla, pointing to the inconsistency in the rules announced by the British government. According to the new rules, Indian travellers who have received both doses of the Covishield vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India will be considered unvaccinated and will have to self-isolate for 10 days.
“The non-recognition of Covishield is a discriminating policy and impacts our citizens travelling to the UK. The External Affairs Minister has raised the issue strongly with the new UK foreign secretary. I am told that certain assurances have been given that this issue will be resolved,” Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla had said Tuesday.
The new travel rules come into effect on 4 October. Under the new rules, Britain has replaced its current ‘traffic light’ system of red, amber, and green countries based on levels of Covid-19 risk with a single ‘red’ list. India is currently on the amber list.
According to The Indian Express, a source told the newspaper, “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.
“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,” the spokesperson added.
Covishield, the made-in-India variant of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s AZD-1222 formulation, is the predominant vaccine being used in India’s mass immunisation programme against Sars-CoV-2, the Covid-19 virus.
Covishield and other Indian vaccines being covered as eligible would mean that a pre-departure PCR test is no longer required as long as vaccinated travellers pre-book a day two test post-arrival in England and complete the compulsory passenger locator form in advance.
From 4 October, Britain will be allowing travellers from 17 additional countries with eligible vaccines. Among them, 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 says this list is reviewed fortnightly.
So far it means, under the new rules to be applicable 4 October onwards, travellers from India 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.