Covishield added to UK travel advisory, but Indians to follow non-vaccinated rules
The UK government on Wednesday issued an updated international travel advisory to include AstraZeneca Covishield among the eligible COVID-19 vaccine formulations. However, it kept India out of the 17 countries on an approved vaccinations list, requiring Indians to follow rules set out for non-vaccinated travellers.
Under new international travel norms that come in force for England from October 4, India is not yet on a list of 17 countries on an approved vaccinations list, and therefore, not exempt from quarantine rules.
There was widespread condemnation of the Serum Institute of India manufactured Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, Covishield, not covered under the reviewed international travel norms, and fully vaccinated travellers from India being subjected to the compulsory 10-day quarantine in line with non-vaccinated travellers.
"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," a British High Commission spokesperson said on Wednesday.
"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, safely and sustainably, while protecting public health," the spokesperson added.
It came amid much confusion over the process for Indian travellers as the advisory states: Formulations of the four listed vaccines, such as AstraZeneca Covishield, AstraZeneca Vaxzevria, and Moderna Takeda, qualify as approved vaccines.
However, UK government officials have indicated that Indian travellers to the country must follow the non-vaccinated rules, which means Indian passengers 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. A privately paid-for "Test to Release" option does exist at day five, which allows an early end to the 10-day quarantine with a negative PCR test.
These rules are effectively unchanged from India's current amber list status. Although, from October 4, England's traffic light system of red, amber, and green countries based on levels of COVID-19 risk is to be officially scrapped.
However, despite Covishield being one of the main vaccines administered in India and falling within the UK's eligible formulations, it would not offer any advantage to Indian travellers planning a UK visit.
"We have to see how it goes. But if we do not get satisfaction, we would be within our rights to impose reciprocal measures," Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said in New Delhi in response to a question on the issue on Tuesday.
"The basic issue is here is a vaccine, Covishield, 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 the UK. We understand that this is used under the national health system, and therefore, non-recognition of Covishield is a discriminatory policy and does impact those of our citizens travelling to the UK," he said.
Covishield and other Indian vaccines covered as eligible would mean that self-isolation and 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 October 4, travellers from 17 additional countries with eligible vaccines, including 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 has said this list is reviewed fortnightly.
The Indian government has said it is working with several countries to recognise India's vaccine certification on a mutual reciprocal basis.