Explained | How will Covishield nod impact travel to U.K.?

Explained | How will Covishield nod impact travel to U.K.?

What are the new rules for tests and quarantine for Indians? Why is India upset with the guidelines?

The story so far: The United Kingdom updated its travel guidelines for international travel this week, saying that from October 4, the U.K. will recognise passengers vaccinated in the U.S., the U.K. and Europe, and 17 other jurisdictions (16 countries and Taiwan), which do not include India. Adding to the measures, against which India protested, the U.K. amended the guidelines ensuring that passengers from those named countries who had taken the India-made Covishield vaccine would be allowed entry without having to be tested or undergoing the mandatory 10-day quarantine, but Indians who have taken the vaccine in India would still need to go through both.

Is the U.K. rule discriminatory?

The U.K. guidelines, originally put out this week, were not just discriminatory but also contradictory. The beneficiaries of the new rule would be the allies of the U.K., like European countries and the United States, as well as the named 17 jurisdictions: Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Dominica, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. Many of these countries still have COVID-19 cases, and all don’t have higher vaccination rates than India. What made the rules particularly confusing was that many of these countries have accepted India’s Serum Institute-made AstraZeneca variant Covishield, including the U.K. itself that received five million doses. Officials said Covishield was not the problem, but the U.K. had questions about India’s CoWIN certification process.

What are the concerns?

U.K. High Commissioner Alexander Ellis didn’t spell out the specific concerns, but said British and India officials are in talks to discuss the interoperability of the CoWIN app, which holds the database of vaccinated Indians, with the U.K. NHS app. This has raised speculation that there are questions in the U.K. about the authenticity of CoWIN data, a contention that Indian officials have rejected outright, saying more than 50 countries worldwide have reportedly expressed an interest in adopting CoWIN technology. However, more questions were raised after the government announced a record 2.5 crore vaccinations on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday, which does not match the demonstrated Indian capacity on other days. By the end of the week, both the U.K. and Indian officials said their teams had no “technical concerns” over the process, but the U.K. guidelines still haven’t been amended for Indians as the government had hoped. If the issue is not resolved in the coming week, the guidelines will come into place from October 4.

What was India’s reaction?

The government called the British decision “discriminatory” and lodged strong protests in Delhi, London and New York, where External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar met his U.K. counterpart Elizabeth Truss on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly and warned of reciprocal measures against the U.K. India mandates travel under an “air travel bubble” arrangement, but accepts mostly Indian citizens and OCI (U.K. nationals of Indian-origin) on flights into India. It also has a separate rule for passengers from the U.K., who must undergo RT-PCR tests and 14 days of home quarantine when they arrive, and it remains to be seen what further reprisals India would wish to take if the U.K. doesn’t resolve the issue. Significantly, the government has also diluted its earlier position, wherein it demanded that the U.K. and other countries not only recognise Covishield, which has World Health Organization (WHO) approval, but that they recognise all Indian vaccines like Covaxin that are certified by Indian processes.

How does this impact India-U.K. ties?

India and the U.K. are in the process of talks on upgrading ties, including their strategic partnership, negotiating a trade agreement, and discussing cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, and the current controversy makes for bad optics, particularly since it involves the Covishield vaccine, once hailed as a symbol of U.K.-India collaboration with British technology and Indian manufacturing. If unresolved, the issue could also overshadow an expected visit by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to India in the next few months. His previously scheduled visits in January and then April this year had to be cancelled owing to COVID-19 outbreaks in India and the U.K.

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