Could mull imposing reciprocal measures: India on new UK vaccine policy for travellers
India on Tuesday urged the UK to change a policy requiring visiting Indian nationals to quarantine even if they are fully vaccinated, describing it as discriminatory.
The issue was raised by external affairs minister S Jaishankar during a meeting with his British counterpart Liz Truss on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York late on Monday.
The issue of vaccine certification has emerged as a fresh irritant in bilateral ties as Indian nationals who have received both doses of Covishield, the local variant of Britain’s AstraZeneca vaccine, will be considered as unvaccinated and will have to quarantine for 10 days under new British travel rules that will come into effect from October 4.
Foreign secretary Harsh Shringla told a media briefing on Tuesday that India could consider imposing “reciprocal measures” against countries that don’t accept the country’s vaccine certification.
The basic issue, Shringla said, is that Covishield is a licensed product of a UK company that is manufactured in India, and five million doses of the vaccine have even been supplied to Britain at the request of the UK government and used by the National Health Service.
“Therefore, non-recognition of Covishield is a discriminatory policy and does impact on those of our citizens travelling to the UK,” he said.
“Urged early resolution of quarantine issue in mutual interest,” Jaishankar tweeted after his meeting with Truss.
Shringla said the minister had raised the issue “strongly” with Truss and was given certain assurances “that this issue would be resolved”.
The UK said on Monday it is working with India on the recognition of Covid-19 vaccine certification issued by Indian authorities following criticism of the new travel restrictions.
A British high commission spokesperson said: “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 new UK rules, which were unveiled on Friday, were described by Britain as an effort to change the current “red, amber, green traffic light system” to a single red list of countries and “simplified travel measures” for arrivals from around the world. But they triggered anger in India, with many describing the rules as discriminatory.
Congress MP and former minister Shashi Tharoor said he had cancelled a planned book tour of Britain to protest against the rules. “It is offensive to ask fully vaccinated Indians to quarantine,” he said.
Shringla said India had offered some partner countries the option of mutual recognition of vaccine certification.
“Obviously, as we go along, we will have to see how it goes. But if we don’t get satisfaction, we would be within our rights to impose reciprocal measures,” he said.
Shringla said the Covid-19-related travel restrictions of the US policy had been gradually liberalised and India’s category within the American policy had been upgraded. He noted, for instance, that visas for Indian students were being speeded up by the US.
Going forward, a number of Indian professionals are expected to be given American visas and it was “positive news” that fully vaccinated people would be allowed to travel to the US, he said.
The Indian side was especially upset by the new rules as vaccination-related travel restrictions had been repeatedly taken up with the UK at the highest levels, including by Shringla and Jaishankar, in recent months.