India is to be classified as an Amber List country but yet has to abide by Red List rules of a 10-day quarantine at home, which has caused confusion related to the reliability of Covishield vaccine.
On 18 September, UK changed the entry rules for fully vaccinated people, dividing fully vaccinated entrants into vaccine brand compartments and geographical locations. In the first announcement Covishield, the alternative name for the Astra Zeneca ChAdOx1 AZD1222 vaccine when manufactured in and for India’s vaccine programme was left off the list. Nor was India included in the list of UK-approved vaccine programmes or in the list of countries that have successfully delivered full courses of a recognised vaccine. India is to be classified as an Amber List country but yet has to abide by Red List rules of 10 days quarantine at home, which has caused confusion; and was interpreted as a slight against Indian manufacturing and indeed Indians themselves. Why this happened is a mystery as Covishield was finalised by The WHO on 15 February 2021 and it was distributed in the early stages of Covax and has been jabbed into the arms of 830 million Indians (along with Covaxin-as yet unfinaliaed by WHO) in the most successful vaccination roll-out in the world. Suddenly on 22 September, the UK added Covishield to the list of approved vaccines with no explanation given, and yet India was not added to the list of 17 countries with approved vaccination programmes thus the 10 days home quarantine still apply.
Exactly how this erroneous anomaly has come about is a still mystery and instead of politicians trying to explain and resolve the anomaly; whether it was complacency, carelessness, or ignorance, it will never be told, and all the miscellaneous lobbies who wish to spoil UK-India relations have fuelled the resentment. Misinformation thrived, there were claims of mandatory expensive hotel quarantine when only self-isolation in the place or home on arrival was required, speculation that the UK was profiteering from expensive PCR tests required on days 2 and 8, accusations of racism and discrimination flourished, and theories of UK trying to poach India’s premier vaccine manufacturing facility, The Serum Institute, from Pune to UK arose. The stage management, communication and optics on behalf of UK were slow and poor, by the time Ministers and Diplomats got on the case the damage was done.
Ordinary folks speculated Covishield was unreliable because Covaxin had not yet received WHO’s finalisation, but this did not make sense as many of the countries on the approved list have received double doses of Covishield and were free to enter unrestricted to Britain. It transpires that this is a British muddle around the certification of vaccinations, by the CoWin App and other App platforms that Indians can use to book vaccines. UK does not seem to recognise that all these platforms are now linked to Aadhaar, the world’s largest identity platform with a verified QR code for each individual. What is astonishing is that former Health Secretaries Matt Hancock and Harsh Vardhan did not resolve these issues before they became international bilateral issues; and that neither noticed that Narendra Modi initiated the Digital India program, including the national central certification of Covid-19 jabs, which is entirely WHO compliant. It is understood that digital ID, vaccine batch number, and date of injection are all linked on India’s system, which is more than can be said for UK’s system.
Grant Shapps Secretary of State for Transport recently resolved a similar technical issue with the UAE certification, from 4 October UAE will join the 17 countries whose vaccine certificates are recognised by the UK. Only after the kerfuffle are ministers doing their due diligence, Mansukh Mandaviya, Ashwini Vaishnaw, Grant Schapps, and Nadine Dorries need a video call to reconcile their differences before the public and bilateral mood sours further, and to allow folks to carry out their business and family arrangements without the hassle and confusion of the past week.
The good news is British High Commissioner Alex Ellis is optimistic for a prompt resolution, conversations with Dr RS Sharma and The National Health Authority are ongoing. On Thursday, Ellis told The Sunday Guardian, “We have been having detailed technical discussions regarding certification, with the builders of the CoWIN app and the NHS app, about both apps. They’re happening at a rapid pace, to ensure that both countries mutually recognise the vaccine certificates issued by each other.”
Making a point India announced the recommencement of Covax Covishield exports; Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus thanked Mansukh Mandaviya and India for resuming the crucial shipments from October, he said it was an important development in reaching the 40% vaccination target in all countries by the end of this year. A GAVI spokesperson told The Sunday Guardian, “We welcome news reports that India is to resume exports of COVID-19 vaccines to the rest of the world. This could have an immensely positive impact on both health security within India as well as globally. Our priority right now is to engage with the Government of India and Serum Institute of India to understand the impact this will have on our supply schedule, as we race to protect as many vulnerable people as we can from COVID-19.”
UK would have looked churlish in not recognising Covishield while it was being shipped everywhere by GAVI. Luckily, the UNGA is in New York City, as the US has now opened up for international travel, with luck and a prayer UK will have done the same before delegates for COP26 start to drop out.