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Non-recognition of Covishield vaccine is discriminating, impacts Indians travelling to UK: Foreign Secretary

NEW DELHI, Sept 21: Amid controversy over the Boris Johnson-led government announcing new COVID-related travel restrictions, Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla on Tuesday said that the non-recognition of the Covishield COVID-19 vaccine is a discriminating policy. He added that it also impacts Indians travelling to the UK.

"The EAM 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," the Foreign Secy informed.

Earlier in the day, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had also urged for an 'early resolution' of the COVID-19 quarantine issue.

This is noteworthy that as per the new rules, Indian travellers who have received both doses of Covishield will be considered unvaccinated and will have to undergo self-isolation for 10 days. The UK has reportedly said it is engaging with India to explore how it could expand the recognition of the COVID-19 vaccine certification issued by Indian authorities.

Covishield Only India-Made Vaccine Cleared For Travel To US For Now

NEW DELHI, Sept 21: The United States will reopen in November to all air passengers who are fully vaccinated against coronavirus. India is among the 33 countries from where fully vaccinated travellers will be allowed to enter. Effectively, Covishield is the only India-made vaccine that is in the list of approved vaccines as of now.

From November, the US will admit fully vaccinated air travelers from the 26 so-called Schengen countries in Europe, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Greece, as well as Britain, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.

Soon after announcing the move, the White House clarified that the final decision on what vaccines would be accepted is up to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The top medical body of the country has said that it considers a person "fully vaccinated" against coronavirus if they have received any FDA-authorised jab or any vaccine that has been authorised by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Foreign nationals will need to present proof of vaccination before travel and will not be required to quarantine on arrival.

So far, only seven vaccines have been approved for use by the WHO. These include Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Covishield (an Oxford-AstraZeneca formulation) and China's Sinopharm and Sinovac.

Made-in-India Covaxin, developed by Bharat Biotech, does not qualify as it has neither been approved by the WHO nor the US FDA. Covaxin is one of the six vaccines that have received emergency use authorisation from India's drug regulator and is being used in the nationwide inoculation programme, along with Covishield and Sputnik V.

The WHO approval for Covaxin is likely to come this month. The US had rejected the emergency use authorisation request for Covaxin in June.

The US decision to ease travel curbs came on a day India said it will resume the export and donations of excess vaccines next month. India, the world's biggest maker of vaccines overall, had stopped vaccine exports in April to focus on inoculating its own population.

US To Lift Covid Travel Ban For Fully Vaccinated Passengers From November

WASHINGTON, Sept 20: The United States announced Monday it will lift Covid travel bans on all air passengers in November if they are fully vaccinated and undergo testing and contact tracing.

Jeffrey Zients, coronavirus response coordinator for President Joe Biden, told reporters the new "consistent approach" would take effect "early November."

The easing of travel restrictions, imposed 18 months ago by Donald Trump as the Covid-19 pandemic first erupted, marks a significant shift by Biden and answers a major demand from European allies at a time of strained diplomatic relations.

Numerous safeguards will remain in place to suppress the spread of the virus, which has already killed more than 670,000 Americans and is resurgent after what many had hoped was a lasting dip earlier this year.

"Most importantly, foreign nationals flying to the US will be required to be fully vaccinated," Zients said.

It wasn't immediately clear if the new rule only applied to US-approved vaccines or if other brands, such as those produced in China or Russia would also qualify. Zients said that would be determined by the US Centers for Disease Control.

Restrictions on vehicle movement from Canada and Mexico will remain in place. "We do not have any updates on the land border policies," Zients said.

Zients said passengers will need to show they were fully vaccinated before boarding planes to the United States, as well as providing proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within three days.

Americans not fully vaccinated will still be able to enter but only on testing negative within a day of travel.

Masks will be obligatory on US-bound flights and airlines will provide the US health authorities with contact tracing information.

"This new international travel system follows the science to keep Americans' international air travel safe," Zients said.

The announcement was quickly welcomed by the trade group Airlines For Europe, which said "this decision will give a much-needed boost to trans-Atlantic traffic & tourism and will reunite families and friends."

But while it had been widely expected that Biden would reopen borders to the European Union and Britain, the announcement covers the globe.

"This applies to all international travel," Zients said.

Currently only US citizens, residents and foreigners with special visas are allowed to enter the United States from most European countries.

The restriction has deeply irked EU and British authorities. On Monday, the European Union recommended that member states reimpose restrictions on American travelers who had earlier been free to enter if vaccinated.

Biden's move comes on the eve of his speech to the annual UN General Assembly in New York, where the pandemic is due to be the headline issue.

It also comes as Washington and Paris spar bitterly over Australia's sudden announcement that it will acquire US-built nuclear submarines as part of a new defense alliance, ditching a previous French contract for conventionally powered submarines.

France has recalled its ambassador from Washington and accused the Biden administration of stabbing it in the back.

However, US officials denied that the White House's travel decision was an attempt to smooth ruffled French feathers.

"This is really driven by the science," a State Department official said.

Shashi Tharoor, Jairam Ramesh Slam UK Vaccine Rules

NEW DELHI, Sept 20: A new travel advisory by the United Kingdom - which says people from India and a few other countries will be considered "unvaccinated" even after two doses of AstraZeneca's Covishield (in use globally as Vaxzervria) - has renewed controversy over freedom of international travel during the pandemic.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said he had cancelled multiple engagements because of the rules - which were announced by the UK government Friday and will come into effect on October 4 - and that it was "offensive to ask fully vaccinated Indians to quarantine".

"Because of this I have pulled out of a debate at the Cambridge Union (the world's oldest debating society) and out of launch events for the UK edition of my book The Battle Of Belonging... It is offensive to ask fully vaccinated Indians to quarantine. The Brits are reviewing!"

Tharoor's party colleague, Jairam Ramesh called the rules "racist".

"Absolutely bizarre considering Covishield was originally developed in the UK and The Serum Institute, Pune, has supplied to that country too! This smacks of racism," he tweeted.

The new rules reflect the UK's decision to scrap its 'amber' list from October 4.

India is currently on that list and has not yet been moved to the expanded 'green' list - countries whose vaccines are recognised by the UK.

Starting October 4, therefore, passengers not vaccinated under "approved programs in the UK (and UK overseas), Europe or US" must self-quarantine for 10 days, as well as pay for two Covid tests.

They can pay for an early test to be released from quarantine.

These rules exclude countries - such as Australia, Bahrain, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and South Korea - where the AstraZeneca vaccine (which is produced and sold in India as Covishield) is in use.

The new system is expected to stay in place for at least a year with the next review only scheduled for early 2022.

The advisory is of particular concern for India, where Covishield is the most widely used vaccine and its non-recognition by the UK (despite its government using the same drug under a different name) will hamper travel plans of students, tourists, businesspeople and others vaccinated in this country.

Covishield already has EUA, or emergency use approval, status from the World Health Organization.

The UK government's decision comes despite over a dozen European nations, including France, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands, having approved India-made Covishield. Fully vaccinated (with Covishield) individuals do not need to return a negative Covid test to enter these countries.

In July there was controversy over Covishield's acceptance by the European Union as well.

The EMA, or European Medical Agency, approved Vaxzervria but not Covishield, prompting the Indian government to warn that it would rescind reciprocal authorization for the former..

That was ahead of the European Union's contentious plans to introduce a 'digital Covid certificate' to "facilitate safe (and) free movement... during the pandemic". The 'certificate', the EU said, is proof the holder is either vaccinated, has tested negative for the coronavirus or has recovered after infection.

Similar concerns - of the West's inequitable treatment of vaccines used elsewhere - were flagged in June by the Africa CDC (Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention). Covishield has been supplied to several African nations as part of the United Nations' COVAX initiative.

 

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