India threatens ‘reciprocal measures' if UK does not reform vaccine policy

A medical staff prepares a jab of the Covishield in India (AFP via Getty Images)

The British government was accused of “discrimination” for forcing mandatory quarantine, even for completely vaccinated people arriving from India, UAE and other countries under their newly changed Covid-19 related travel guidelines.

India's foreign ministry on Tuesday described Britain's decision to not recognise 'Covishield' — the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and manufacture by Serum Institute of India (SII) in Pune as “discriminatory”.

Harsh Varshan Shringla, India foreign secretary warned that the country is within its rights to “take reciprocal measures” if the matter was not resolved.

“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,” Mr Shringla said in New Delhi.

Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar raised the issue with his British counterpart Liz Truss in New York and reportedly urged her to remove the quarantine requirement for vaccinated Indians. “Urged early resolution of quarantine issue in mutual interest,” Mr Jaishankar said in a tweet.

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“We have offered our partner countries of mutual recognition of vaccines. But these are reciprocal actions. If we don’t get satisfaction we will be well within our rights to impose reciprocal measures,” the ministry said in a statement.

According to the rules in the UK, travellers who have received both doses of the Covishield vaccine will have to quarantine for 10 days. The new rules will take effect from 4 October and is an attempt to streamline the present “red, amber, green traffic light system” to a single red list of countries.

However, according to New Delhi, India provided 4 million doses of Covishield vaccine to the UK at their request. “The basic issue is that the vaccine called Covishield, of which the original manufacturer is in the UK. This has been used by their health system,” the statement added.

Besides India, several other countries in the Middle East, South America, Africa and Russia are upset over the change in Britain's travel policy.

Meanwhile, author and opposition MP, Shashi Tharoor, pulled out of a planned book tour of UK in protest against the quarantine rules. In a tweet on Monday, he wrote: “It is offensive to ask fully vaccinated Indians to quarantine. The Brits are reviewing”.

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Another lawmaker from India Jairam Ramesh said “This smacks of racism”. “Absolutely bizarre considering Covishield was originally developed in the UK and The Serum Institute, Pune has supplied to that country too,” he added.

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Covishield and Covaxin are the two India-made coronavirus vaccines that have been administered to millions of Indians so far.

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