India warns UK of 'reciprocal measures' in vaccine row

The UK government's decision to not recognise Covishield as a legitimate anti-Covid vaccine is "discriminatory" and it is within the country's "right to take reciprocal measures" if the matter was not resolved, India's Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla warned Tuesday, saying this move impacts Indian citizens travelling to that country

Sep 21, 2021
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Covid vaccine (File)

The UK government's decision to not recognise Covishield as a legitimate anti-Covid vaccine is "discriminatory" and it is within the country's "right to take reciprocal measures" if the matter was not resolved, India's Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla warned Tuesday, saying this move impacts Indian citizens travelling to that country.

"The non-recognition of Covishield is a discriminating policy and impacts our citizens travelling to the UK. The External Affairs Minister has raised the issue strongly with the new UK Foreign Secretary. I am told that certain assurances have been given that this issue will be resolved," Shringla said at a press conference in New Delhi.

His comments came on a day Foreign Minister S Jaishankar tweeted about discussing the matter with the British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on the sidelines of the high-level 76th session of the UN General Assembly. The meeting in New York took place the same day as the UK announced new Covid-related travel restrictions that sparked sharp criticism and concerns in India.

According to these new rules, Indian travellers who have received both doses of the Covishield, vaccine manufactured by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) - the world's largest vaccine maker by volume - will be considered unvaccinated and will have to undergo self-isolation for 10 days. Covishield was developed by researchers at the University of Oxford and pharma giant AstraZeneca. It was one of the two vaccines deployed by India -- Covaxin being the other -- in its nationwide Covid vaccination drive launched this January by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

 The expanded list of countries whose vaccines are recognised in the UK does not include India. It means Indians vaccinated with Covishield would be required to undergo compulsory polymerase chain reaction tests as well as self-isolation. The new rules will come into effect next month.
 
Asked about the concerns in India, a British High Commission spokesperson in New Delhi told PTI, "We are engaging with the Government of India to explore how we could expand the UK recognition of vaccine certification to people vaccinated by a relevant public health body in India."

Meanwhile, the United States will reopen in November to all air passengers who are fully vaccinated against coronavirus. India is among the 33 countries from where fully vaccinated travellers will be allowed to enter. Effectively, Covishield is the only India-made vaccine that is on the list of approved vaccines as of now.

Made-in-India Covaxin, developed by Bharat Biotech, does not qualify as it has neither been approved by the WHO nor the US FDA. Covaxin is one of the six vaccines that have received emergency use authorisation from India's drug regulator and is being used in the nationwide inoculation programme, along with Covishield and Sputnik V.

The US decision to ease travel curbs came on a day India said it will resume the export and donations of excess vaccines next month. India, the world's biggest maker of vaccines overall, had stopped vaccine exports in April to focus on inoculating its own population.

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