Diplomatic victory

India prevails upon Britain to lift quarantine curbs

Diplomatic victory

Photo for representation only.

Sustained diplomatic pressure from New Delhi has prompted the UK government to add India to its list of vaccine-eligible countries for Covishield. From October 11, Indian travellers who have received both doses of Covishield — which is a formulation of the UK-recognised Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine — at least 14 days before arrival in Britain can travel without having to quarantine. They will also not be required to undergo a pre-departure Covid test nor take a test on (or after) day 8 following their arrival.

The UK had initially refused to recognise Covishield, manufactured by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII), drawing a sharp reaction from India. Even as Britain faced allegations of vaccine ‘racism’, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla warned of ‘reciprocal measures’ if the dispute was not resolved to India’s satisfaction. Later, British officials claimed that there were issues with India’s vaccine certification process and not with the vaccine itself. In a tit-for-tat move, India made it mandatory for all British nationals arriving in India from the UK to undergo a 10-day quarantine even if they were fully vaccinated. The signs of strain in bilateral ties were visible in the sporting arena as well. Earlier this week, India pulled out of the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games’ hockey competition, citing Covid-19 concerns and the UK’s ‘discriminatory’ quarantine rules for Indian travellers. Caught on a sticky wicket, Britain had no option but to do a climbdown.

Such unfair policies have already been red-flagged by the World Health Organisation, which has expressed concern that Covid-19 vaccines having a proven efficacy and approved by the global health body for emergency use are not being recognised in all countries. Now that the acrimonious matter has been settled, India and Britain need to work in close cooperation to fight the pandemic. It’s laudable that the Indian government has allowed the SII to supply Covishield vaccine in bulk to AstraZeneca under a contractual obligation with the UK-based firm, even as India has resumed the Vaccine Maitri programme for worldwide distribution of the shots. Western countries such as the UK would be well advised to take a cue from India’s vaccine diplomacy.

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