India warns UK of reciprocal measures over travel norms

India warns UK of reciprocal measures if discriminatory Covid-19 travel policy not discarded

The issue is likely to come up again when PM Modi will have a bilateral meeting with his UK counterpart Boris Johnson in Washington D.C. later this week

The UK's new policy considers Indians vaccinated with two doses of the Covishield vaccine 'unvaccinated'. Credit: PTI File Photo

If the British Government makes travellers fully inoculated with the Covishield vaccine in India undergo mandatory quarantine procedures upon arrival in the United Kingdom, New Delhi will respond with “reciprocal measures”, Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla warned on Tuesday.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar raised the issue “strongly” during a meeting with his new counterpart in the British Government, Liz Truss, in New York. He urged Truss to expeditiously make changes in the British Government’s new travel rules and ensure recognition of the certificates issued by the Government of India to people fully inoculated with the Covishield Covid-19 vaccines so that they could visit the UK without any hassle.

“Urged early resolution of quarantine issue in mutual interests,” the External Affairs Minister tweeted after his meeting with the British Foreign Secretary in New York, where both of them arrived to take part in the meetings related to the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Hours after the Jaishankar-Truss meeting, Shringla said in New Delhi that the UK’s new travel rules were “discriminatory” towards travellers from India. “As we go along, we will have to see how it goes. If we don’t get satisfaction, we would be within our right to impose reciprocal measures,” the Foreign Secretary told journalists.

Read | UK says it is working with India on recognition of vaccine certificates

The new travel rules recently introduced by the British Government do not recognize people travelling to the UK as vaccinated even if they received both doses of the Covishield Covid-19 vaccines under the inoculation programme in India. The new rules, which will come into force on October 4, implies that people who received both doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca PLC and Oxford University and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII) in India, will be considered unvaccinated and hence will have to go through mandatory quarantine procedures on arrival in the UK.

Shringla noted that Covishield was a licensed product of a UK company and manufactured in India. He also pointed out that India had supplied five million doses of Covishield to the UK at the request of the British government, which wanted the jabs for its National Health System’s inoculation programme. “Therefore, non-recognition of the Covishield is a discriminatory policy and does impact those of our citizens travelling to the UK,” the Foreign Secretary said, adding that India had offered some of its partner countries the option of mutual recognition of vaccination certificates.

The issue is likely to come up again when Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have a bilateral meeting with his UK counterpart Boris Johnson in Washington D.C. later this week.

What has irked New Delhi is that the UK Government has decided to waive off the mandatory quarantine requirement for visitors who are fully inoculated with the same vaccine developed by AstraZeneca PLC and Oxford University, but manufactured in other countries.

Watch | UK vaccine rules are double standard: Shashi Tharoor

Shashi Tharoor, the Congress MP from Kerala, protested against the new travel rules introduced by the British Government. He pulled out of some events in UK which he was to participate in, including a debate at Cambridge University and the launch of his new book. His party colleague, Jairam Ramesh, said that the new UK travel rules smacked of racism.

Jaishankar conveyed to Truss that the British Government’s new travel rules had triggered widespread criticism in India and it was not in sync with the spirit of the new Roadmap 2030 that Modi and Johnson had agreed upon during the last summit held virtually on May 4.

This was the first meeting between the two after Truss took over as the new British Foreign Secretary, replacing Dominic Raab.

According to the British Government’s new travel rules, only those people who are inoculated with vaccines, such as the double-dose ones developed by AstraZeneca PLC, Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc, or the single-dose one developed by the Johnson and Johnson’s “under an approved vaccination program in the UK, Europe, US or UK vaccine programme overseas”, will be considered fully vaccinated.

Besides, beneficiaries of the inoculation programmes run by the public health authorities in Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Dominica, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan will also be considered fully vaccinated.

The External Affairs Minister and the UK Foreign Secretary also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban last month returned to power through a military offensive across the country, taking advantage of the withdrawal of troops by the United States and its NATO allies. They also discussed the developments in the Indo-Pacific region, where the UK recently joined Australia and the United States to forge a new security alliance AUKUS to counter the hegemonic aspirations of China.

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