Days after new Covid-19 travel rules notified by the United Kingdom put those who are vaccinated with Covishield in the category of the “unvaccinated”, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar met British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in New York and raised the issue “strongly”, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said on Tuesday.
The non-recognition of Covishield is a “discriminatory policy” that impacts Indian citizens travelling to the UK, Shringla said in the first official response from India to the new British rules.
He said the UK Foreign Secretary had given “assurances” that the issue would be “resolved”. However, if India is not satisfied with the solution, it would be within its rights to take reciprocal measures, Shringla said.
After the meeting with Truss, Jaishankar tweeted that he “urged early resolution of quarantine issue in mutual interest”.
The Indian Express had reported in its Tuesday edition that Jaishankar would speak to Truss on this issue. India had already sent a diplomatic note of protest, and had threatened to invoke the reciprocal principle if the UK failed to review its decision.
The diplomatic firestorm erupted after the UK announced on September 17 that from October 4, only those individuals who are inoculated “under an approved vaccination program in the UK, Europe, US, or UK vaccine programme overseas” would be considered fully vaccinated.
The list of countries whose vaccines are recognised in the UK does not include India, which means people vaccinated with Covishield — the Indian variant of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured under licence here — would be subject to restrictions applying to the unvaccinated.
“The basic issue is that — here is a vaccine, Covishield, which is a licensed product of a UK company, manufactured in India, of which we have supplied 5 million doses to the UK at the request of the Government of the UK. We understand this has been used in the National Health System,” Shringla said in New Delhi in response to questions.
“Therefore”, he said, “non-recognition of Covishield is a discriminatory policy, and does impact on our citizens travelling to the UK. The External Affairs Minister has raised this issue strongly with his counterpart, the new Foreign Secretary of the UK.”
Truss replaced Dominic Raab as the British foreign minister after a reshuffle of the Cabinet by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on September 15.
Shringla said: “I am told that certain assurances have been given that this (vaccine) issue would be resolved. And as you saw, the minister (Jaishankar) has said that these issues should be resolved at the earliest possible to mutual satisfaction.”
“We have also offered some of our partner countries the option of mutual recognition of vaccination certificates or vaccine certification,” Shringla said. “But these are reciprocal measures. Obviously, as we go along, we will have to see how it goes. But if we don’t get satisfaction, we would be within our rights to impose reciprocal measures.”
When contacted, a spokesperson for British High Commission in New Delhi said, “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,” the spokesperson added.