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!"
Because of this I have pulled out of a debate at the @cambridgeunion &out of launch events for the UK edition of my book #TheBattleOfBelonging (published there as #TheStruggleForIndiasSoul). It is offensive to ask fully vaccinated Indians to quarantine. The Brits are reviewing! https://t.co/YEVy3Ez5dj— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) September 20, 2021
Mr 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.
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. https://t.co/GtKOzMgydf— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) September 20, 2021
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, new agency PTI reported, 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.
With input from AFP, PTI