UK backtracks on travel restrictions imposed on India: How it happened

UK backtracks on travel restrictions imposed on India: How it happened

A week after the Indian government imposed reciprocal travel restrictions on British visitors arriving in India, the United Kingdom (UK) has decided to scrap the mandatory quarantine period for ‘fully vaccinated’ Indian citizens arriving in the country. The fresh set of guidelines will become effective from October 11 onwards at 4 am.

In a statement, the British High Commissioner to India Alex Ellis said, “Good evening! From Monday (October 11), a traveller, from India to the UK, double jabbed with Covishield or another vaccine recognized by the UK regulator, does not have to quarantine. So, it will be easier and cheaper to enter the UK. This is great news. We have actually been open for Indian travellers for months. We have issued 1000s of visas to students, business travellers and tourists.”

“The noise about this issue for the past few weeks show how people are keen to travel to the UK. And I am delighted by this. Let’s now take this a little further,” he remarked. Ellis further concluded, “Let’s open more flights between the two countries, allow British tourists to come to India and business travellers to come with e-visas. This is a further step down the road set by PM Modi and PM Johnson when they agreed to develop a strategic partnership.

According to updated guidelines issued by the UK government for travellers to England from India, it read, “India will be added to this list of countries and territories with approved proof of vaccination 4 am Monday October 11. If you arrive in England before that date you must follow the rules for people who are not fully vaccinated. If you arrive after that, you can use a vaccine certificate to prove your vaccination status.”

Health guideline issued by the UK government

UK and its discriminative travel restriction policy against India and the change of heart

Earlier in September this year, the United Kingdom government decided to label fully vaccinated Indian citizens as ‘unvaccinated individuals’ and force them to undergo a mandatory quarantine for 10 days. This was although Covishield had received recognition from the World Health Organisation (WHO). The Indian government, under the programme ‘Vaccine Maitri’, had provided 5 million Covishield doses to the UK, which was later used by the country’s health authorities.

As such, it came as a rude shock when the UK government refused to recognize the Covishield vaccine. Interestingly, the jab was developed by Oxford- AstraZeneca (a UK-based company) and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), one of the largest vaccine manufacturers. Even then, Britain had declined to recognize the world’s most extensive Covid-19 vaccination programme, and the vaccine certificates issued via the CoWIN portal. Foreign Secretary of India Harsh Vardhan Shringla criticized UK’s approach on vaccines and its new policy on vaccines in a press conference. 

He said, “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.” Secretary Shringla said that India found the non-recognition of the Covishield vaccine as discriminatory and indicated that reciprocal measures could be taken. As such, the Indian government on Friday (October 1) imposed reciprocal travel curbs on British visitors arriving in India from the UK, with effect from October 4. 

The Indian government had announced that all UK nationals travelling to India would have to undertake RT-PCR test 72 hours before their departure compulsorily. Besides, they would also be required to take the COVID-19 test on arrival and 8 days after landing. A 10-day quarantine was also made mandatory for the flyers from the UK, regardless of their vaccination status. 

The Indian Hockey team also pulled out of the Commonwealth Games at Birmingham in the United Kingdom. They cited the Coronavirus crisis and preparations for the upcoming Asian games for not participating in the competition. In a statement, Hockey India remarked that the UK had been the worst affected country in Europe amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hockey India said in a statement, “As you are aware that the Commonwealth Games are scheduled in Birmingham, England from July 28 to August 8 2022 and the Asian Games are schedules in Hangzhou, China from 10 to September 25 2022. There is only a 32-day window between the conclusions of the Commonwealth Games before the start of the Asian Games. You will also appreciate the Asian Games is the continental qualification event for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games and keeping the priority of the Asian Games in mind, Hockey India cannot take a risk for any members of the Indian Teams contracting COVID-19 during the above Commonwealth Games (sic).”

“It is pertinent to mention that due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, England have issued guidelines that 10 days quarantine is required Indians arrivals in England even for those who are fully vaccinated, since unfortunately the Indian vaccinations are not yet recognized by the English government. Such discriminatory restrictions were not imposed on Indian athletes and officials during the recent Tokyo Olympic Games and this 10 days quarantine requirement for vaccinated sports persons will affect their performances. We feel these restrictions are biased against India and term it as very unfortunate (sic),” the statement added.

Within a week of India’s reciprocal travel curb and the withdrawal of India’s hockey team, the UK government has backtracked on its discriminatory stance and accepted Covishield certification as proof of complete vaccination.

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