Britain’s decision to ask people vaccinated in India to be quarantined for 10 days is not related to the certification process but instead to the fact that the south Asian country still has “some Covid,” the British high commissioner has said.
Several questions have been raised in New Delhi about recent updates to UK’s vaccine policy, especially because it initially did not recognise Covishield, the locally manufactured version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
“The question is, were you a ‘green listed’ country? On our list of 17 countries are mainly ‘green-listed’ countries because they have very low levels of Covid ... India still has some Covid as we know. That’s why it is on the ‘amber’ list,” Mr Ellis told NDTV’s Sreenivasan Jain in an interview on Wednesday.
India has recorded between 25,000 and 30,000 Covid-19 cases every day for the past few weeks. It currently has more than 300,000 active cases.
The controversy over the guidelines had risen earlier this week when the UK said it had reviewed its international travel norms, effective from 4 October. The guidelines said those who were inoculated in India, along with UAE, Jordan Russia, African and South American countries among others, would be considered “unvaccinated.”
This sparked outrage in India and widespread condemnation of the new policy. India had warned the UK of “reciprocal actions” and said that the new travel policy was “discriminatory” in nature.
It became a matter of debate in India because a majority of the Indian population is vaccinated with Covishield, which is a a locally manufactured version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine being used in the UK and other countries. It is produced in India locally by the Serum Institute of India.
Though the revised rules now include Covishield, they do not include Covaxin, the other vaccine being used in India. The indigenously manufactured vaccine is yet to be approved by the World Health Organisation.
When questioned if the addition of Covishield in the list of acceptable vaccines was a result of diplomatic pressure from New Delhi, Mr Ellis said: “We listen very carefully to what the Indian government says.”
The revised rules of the UK travel policy still require those vaccinated in India to take a mandatory 10 day quarantine and two RT-PCR tests after arrival in the UK.
This led to accusations that the UK government did not trust India’s vaccine certificates, especially after a British High Commission spokesperson was quoted by Indian news agencies as saying that they were in talks with the Indian government to “expand the UK recognition of vaccine certification”.
Mr Ellis took to Twitter on Thursday to clarify that “neither side raised technical concerns with each other’s certification process.”
“Excellent technical discussions with @rssharma3 @AyushmanNHA. Neither side raised technical concerns with each other’s certification process. An important step forward in our joint aim to facilitate travel and fully protect public health of UK and India,” he wrote.
Earlier, in the NDTV interview, he had said the two countries were in talks and the UK government was trying to figure out how the CoWin portal works. The CoWIN app is a central government-run system for vaccine appointments and certification in India.
“We have to have confidence [in the Co-Win app],” Mr Ellis said.
“For the last couple of weeks, we have been having detailed technical conversations between the builders of the UK’s NHS app and India’s Co-Win app,” he added. “They have been talking to each other about how the apps work, their security protocols.”
“It is a very new policy which takes a bit of time to work through. What happens in the UK affects public health in India and what happens in India affects public health in the UK because of the fantastic movement of people between the two countries. So, we need to get this right,” he added.