India asks UK to revise COVID quarantine rules, warns retaliation

Indian foreign minister urges the UK to amend the rule requiring Indians visiting there to quarantine even if they are fully vaccinated.

India Foreign Secretary Jaishankar
India's Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar [File: Kevin Hagen/AP Photo]

India’s foreign minister has urged the United Kingdom for an “early resolution of quarantine issue” in the wake of a new British rule requiring Indians visiting there to quarantine even if they are fully vaccinated.

England and Scotland will ease pandemic restrictions from early October, but the list of countries with approved vaccines does not include India, despite the country using a locally made version of the AstraZeneca vaccine developed in the UK.

India’s Covishield vaccine, developed jointly by the Oxford University and AstraZeneca and manufactured by Pune-based Serum Institute of India, is not recognised by Britain under the new rule despite being identical to the doses given to millions of Britons.

The rules, that come into effect next month, have caused anger, with many Indians branding the decision as discriminatory. Britons vaccinated in the UK with the same Indian-made doses are not required to quarantine.

“Urged early resolution of quarantine issue in mutual interest,” Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said in a tweet on Tuesday after a meeting with his British counterpart Liz Truss in New York, where both are attending the United Nations General Assembly.

Britain’s move could also lead to retaliation from New Delhi, with an Indian government official saying it was likely to take reciprocal steps if the issue is not quickly resolved.

“The basic issue is that, here’s a vaccine – Covishield – which is a licensed product of a UK company manufactured in India of which we have supplied five million doses to the UK at the request of the government,” India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla told reporters in New Delhi, according to an AFP news agency report.

Calling the non-recognition of Covishield “a discriminatory policy”, he said negotiations were under way with the UK over the new requirements.

“But if we don’t get satisfaction we would be within our rights to impose reciprocal measures.”

The British High Commission in New Delhi said the UK was working with India to resolve the issue.

“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 spokesperson said.

The rule, that mandates 10 days of self-isolation for travellers arriving from India, also apply to many other countries using Covishield, including most African ones.

Shashi Tharoor, an Indian opposition parliamentarian and author, said on Monday he had cancelled a planned book tour of the UK in protest against the rule.

“It is offensive to ask fully vaccinated Indians to quarantine,” he said.

Another opposition parliamentarian, Jairam Ramesh, said the decision “smacks of racism”.

AstraZeneca is one of the key providers to Britain’s vaccination programme, along with the United States peers Moderna and Pfizer.

The AstraZeneca vaccine makes up most of the doses given to Indians to date. A smaller number have taken an indigenous vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech, which is not in use in the UK.

Source: News Agencies