London: The UK government on Wednesday issued an updated international travel advisory to include AstraZeneca Covishield among the eligible COVID-19 vaccine formulations but kept India out of the 18 countries on an approved vaccinations list, requiring Indians to follow rules set out for “non-vaccinated” travellers.

Despite the inclusion of Covishield, Indian travellers are not exempt from the quarantine rules under the UK’s new international travel norms that will come into force from October 4, with the British officials in New Delhi maintaining that the main issue is vaccine certification and not the vaccine and that both India and the UK are holding talks to mutually resolve the matter.

There is no official reaction from India on the inclusion of Covishield to the approved list of vaccines by the UK.

There was widespread condemnation of the Serum Institute of India manufactured Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, Covishield, not being 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.

In a statement, UK High Commissioner to India Alex Ellis said, “We’re clear Covishield is not a problem…”

“We have been having detailed technical discussions regarding certification, with the builders of the CoWIN app and the NHS app, about both apps. They’re happening at a rapid pace, to ensure that both countries mutually recognise the vaccine certificates issued by each other,” he added.

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,” the spokesperson said.

It came amid much confusion over the process for Indian travellers as the advisory states: Formulations of the 4 listed vaccines, such as AstraZeneca Covishield, AstraZeneca Vaxzevria and Moderna Takeda, qualify as approved vaccines.

National Health Authority CEO RS Sharma in New Delhi said he was not aware of any concerns being raised by the UK about COVID vaccine certification by India, asserting that the Co-WIN system is WHO-compliant.

“I am not aware of any concerns being raised by the UK. The British High Commissioner met me on September 2 and wanted to know details about the Co-WIN system.

However, UK government officials have indicated that Indian travellers to the UK 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, even though 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 being 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 that here is a vaccine, Covishield, which is 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 being 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 being 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.

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