International Nation

Vaccine certification for travel must meet ‘minimum criteria’, working closely with India: UK

London: Amid concerns over non-recognition of vaccination certification issued by India, the United Kingdom government has said that COVID-19 vaccine certification from all countries must meet the ‘minimum criteria’ for international travel.

The UK government further assured that it is working with India on “a phased approach” to its international travel norms. The development came after the UK government said that Covishield, the Serum Institute of India manufactured Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, has qualified as an approved vaccine.

It said that Covishield has been added as ‘eligible’ to an expanded UK travel advisory on Wednesday.

“As part of our recently expanded inbound vaccination policy, we recognise the following vaccines Pfizer BioNTech, Oxford AstraZeneca, Moderna and Janssen (J&J), for the purposes of international travel. This now includes the formulations AstraZeneca Covishield, AstraZeneca Vaxzevria and Moderna Takeda,” a UK government spokesperson said.

But since India’s vaccine certification is not on a list of 18 approved countries, Indian travellers to the UK will continue to be treated as “non-vaccinated” and therefore required to quarantine for 10 days on arrival.

Following much confusion over this process, UK government sources had said on Wednesday night that additions or changes to the approved country listings are being kept under regular consideration, but there was no further clarity on the required criteria for approving a country’s vaccine certification.

“Our top priority remains to protect public health, and reopening travel in a safe and sustainable way, which is why vaccine certification from all countries must meet the minimum criteria taking into account public health and wider considerations. We continue to work with international partners, including India, to roll out our phased approach,” the spokesperson said.

According to the new UK travel advisory, travellers who are not fully vaccinated, or vaccinated in a country such as India currently not on the UK government’s recognised list, must take a pre-departure test, pay for day two and day eight PCR tests after arrival in England and self-isolate for 10 days, with an option to test to release after five days following a negative PCR test.

With reference to an outcry over India’s vaccination certification not being recognised despite Covishield being one of two main COVID-19 vaccines administered in India, UK government sources said that the rollout of its inbound vaccination programme to other countries and territories was always intended as a phased approach, building on the success of pilots with the US and Europe.

It may be noted that from 4 October, England’s traffic light system of red, amber and green countries based on levels of COVID-19 risk will be officially scrapped. However, despite Covishield now being recognised within the UK’s eligible vaccine formulations, it would not offer any advantage to Covishield-vaccinated Indian travellers planning a UK visit.

The Indian government has earlier expressed its strong concerns regarding such a move and warned of reciprocal measures if vaccinated travellers from India continued to be treated in a “discriminatory” way.

Significantly, at a global COVID-19 summit hosted by US President Joe Biden on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated that international travel should be made easier through mutual recognition of vaccine certificates.