India warns of 'reciprocal measures' if UK doesn't recognise Covishield

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar took up the matter with his UK counterpart Liz Truss (left) in a meeting in New York | Photo: Twitter
India has called the UK government’s move to treat fully vaccinated Indians as unvaccinated a “discriminatory policy” and indicated that it has the right to take reciprocal action.

“Covishield is a licensed product of a UK company manufactured in India. We have supplied 5 million doses of Covishield to the UK on its request. Therefore, non-recognition of Covishield is a discriminatory policy and impacts those citizens travelling to the UK,” Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said on Tuesday.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, too, took up the matter with his UK counterpart, Liz Truss, in a meeting in New York and urged for an early resolution in mutual interest.

Last Friday, the UK introduced a new system for international travel, removing the home isolation requirement for vaccinated individuals from certain countries.

The benefit has been extended to an extra 17 countries, including those in Asia and the Caribbean. India, however, has not been included in the list, and passengers from here (even those with two doses of Covishield) would have to self-isolate for 10 days upon arrival in the UK. This sparked an outcry, forcing the government to raise the issue with the UK government.

India has recognised four Covid vaccines but has used only the Oxford-AstraZeneca-licensed Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin in its immunisation drive. While Covishield has been recognised by the World Health Organization, Covaxin’s approval is pending. Over 85 per cent of Indians have been vaccinated by Covishield.

The Indian government has been discussing the issue of vaccine recognition with the UK and the European Union for the past few months. Several European countries began recognising Covishield vaccine after India threatened retaliatory action.  

“We have offered some of our partner countries the option of mutual recognition of vaccine certificates. These are reciprocal measures. We will see how it goes but if we don’t get satisfaction, we will be within our right to impose reciprocal measures,” Shringla stated.

The British High Commission said in a statement: “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.”

According to the current norms, the UK accepts visa applications for all categories in India and does not require vaccination for entry. Passengers, however, are required to take a pre-departure Covid-19 test, and tests on second and eighth day upon arrival, apart from self-isolation. Passengers can also shorten their home quarantine to around five days under its ‘test to release’ scheme.

India on its part does not insist on vaccination and has done away with institutional quarantine for foreigners entering the country. A pre-arrival RT-PCR is required for all, and a post-arrival test is required for passengers from certain countries.

Serum Institute of India (SII) CEO Adar Poonwalla had said on Monday that countries across the world needed to harmonise vaccine certification on priority. Earlier in July, the global Covid-19 vaccine initiative for equitable distribution and access had urged nations to recognise all WHO-approved shots.

SII had applied to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) through British drug major AstraZeneca to include its manufacturing sites as authorised sites for making Vaxzevria Covid-19 vaccine. This was done a few months back. SII has also submitted data to show that Covishield and Vaxzevria are identical – both with the UK MHRA and the EU authorities.

Sources indicated that so far, the EMA nod had not come for SII’s sites. “SII’s Indian sites are yet to be included as authorised manufacturing sites of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine,” said the source.

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