India hits back at UK with quarantine rules
UK nationals travelling to India will have to undergo 10-day mandatory quarantine even if they are fully vaccinated under reciprocal measures to be enforced from October 4, marking an escalation in the vaccine certification row between the two countries.
The Indian side made the decision on Friday as the UK has not yet taken a call on accepting India’s vaccine certification more than 10 days after the conclusion of technical discussions that were expected to resolve the matter.
The row erupted because Indians travelling to the UK will have to undergo a 10-day quarantine under new British travel rules that come into force from October 4.
The UK’s failure to recognise Covishield, the Indian variant of the Britain’s AstraZeneca jab, had also given rise to allegations of vaccine racism.
Though the UK recently included Covishield in its list of approved vaccines, the process for accepting India’s vaccine certification is expected to take more time.
“India has decided to impose reciprocity on British nationals arriving in India from the UK,” a person familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity.
“Our new regulations will come into effect from October 4, and will be applicable to all UK nationals arriving from the UK,” the person said, adding that the measures will be enforced irrespective of the person’s vaccination status.
The mandatory quarantine will have to be done at home or at the destination address.
All UK nationals travelling to India will also have to undergo a pre-departure Covid-19 RT-PRC test within 72 hours before travel, another RT-PCR test on arrival at the airport, and a RT-PCR test on the eighth day after arrival.
The health and civil aviation ministries will take steps to implement the new measures.
The Indian move reflected the growing anger in New Delhi over the vaccine certification issue and appeared to be aimed at pressuring the British side to act for the speedy resolution of the matter.
At the moment, British nationals flying to India have to undergo tests before their travel and on arrival, and undergo quarantine for seven days.
However, people familiar with developments said the quarantine wasn’t being strictly monitored or enforced at many places, and the onus was largely on individuals to comply with a declaration signed at the airport.
From October 4, the 10-day mandatory quarantine will be strictly monitored. The new measures will not apply to Indian nationals flying in from the UK.
The Union ministry of health and family welfare has asked states and Union territories that have international airports to enforce the restrictions on arriving UK nationals, and also alerted Integrated Disease and Surveillance Programme (IDSP) officials to monitor the home quarantines and the mandatory test on the 8th day.
It has also alerted all Airport Health Organisations and Port Health Organisations that are in charge of screening arriving passengers.
A decision on the British side regarding acceptance of India’s vaccine certification requires further consultations between several ministries, including the Department of Health and Social Care and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, people familiar with the matter said.
The inclusion of the complete date of birth in vaccine certification done through India’s CoWIN platform has met a key requirement of the British side, they added.
The approval in the UK involves a whole-of-government approach and the British side is aware of the urgency of the matter, they said.
Indian officials have so far held two technical meetings with British representatives. British high commissioner Alex Ellis met the chief executive of the National Health Authority, RS Sharma, on September 2, and the second meeting was held on September 21 between the technical teams.
Sharma has said the British side had made it clear that the “certificate process is not the issue”.
The discussions focused on certification through the CoWIN app, the security of the system, data sharing between the two sides, and reconciling the CoWIN system with the NHS Covid Pass developed by Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).
Ellis and Sharma also met on September 23, and the envoy described those talks as “an important step forward in our joint aim to facilitate travel”.
The vaccine certification row has come at a time when overall bilateral ties are on the upswing and the two sides are working towards a trade agreement.
It has become a problem as growing numbers of Indians, especially students, are travelling to the UK.
Foreign secretary Harsh Shringla had warned on September 21 that India could consider imposing “reciprocal measures” against nations that don’t accept the country’s vaccine certification.
India is currently in the UK’s so-called amber list of countries because of cases of Covid-19. The UK will phase out the red, amber and green lists when its new travel rules come into force on October 4.
Rhythma Kaul contributed to this story