The UK travel guidelines have kicked up a storm among Indian travelers. As the World is slowly healing from the Corona Virus pandemic, countries are gradually reopening their gates to welcome International travelers. With the World getting vaccinated against the Virus, several countries are gearing up to welcome Indian travelers. In various announcements made over the past few days, some attractive destinations worldwide have been opened for Indians. But one country, the United Kingdom, has annoyed India by a seemingly random change of rules that is prejudicial to vaccinated Indians.
What does the UK travel guideline say?
In a breakthrough move, the UK has altered its Covid-19 travel guidelines, putting Indians vaccinated with Covishield in the category of ‘unvaccinated.’ While it has eased the rules for those immunized with two shots Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, the exact version of the vaccine being produced in India by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India has been kept out of the list.
UK’s travel guidelines
Presently, the UK has a policy designating countries in the ‘red,’ ‘amber,’ and ‘green’ list. Suppose, a person has been in a ‘red list’ country ten days before arrival in the UK, she has to quarantine for ten days in a quarantine hotel. After that, she has to take a Covid-19 test on or before day two or after day eight of quarantining. Even fully vaccinated people have to follow these rules: The fine is up to £10,000 for violating quarantine rules and £5,000 for arriving without a prior negative test.
India is on the ‘amber list.’ If a person has been in an ‘amber list’ country ten days before arrival in England, she has to take a Covid-19 test three days before traveling to the country. If a traveler arrives without documentation of a negative Covid-19 test before departure, the fine is £500. After arrival, the traveler has to take a Covid-19 test on day two.
The initial test is necessary for fully vaccinated travelers, but they are excluded from quarantine if they have taken the entire course of an ‘authorised’ vaccine. ‘Authorised’ involves two doses of the Pfizer, Moderna, or AstraZeneca vaccine (a traveler must have the final dose at least 14 days before arrival in England) or at least one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
If any traveler from the amber list is not fully immunized with the authorized vaccine, she is needed to quarantine at home or in the place where she is staying. After that, she has to take a test on or before day two of arrival. Again, she has to take another test on or after day eight. If the traveler tests positive for Covid-19, she and the household must quarantine for ten days from the test day. If tests on the traveler’s samples detect a ‘variant of concern,’ all her contacts too will be asked to take a test.
However, the travelers from ‘green list’ countries, too, need to take a test Covid-19 test three days before the trip to England; and schedule a day-2 test after landing in England. There is a blanket exclusion from quarantine for the green list unless the test result is positive on day 2.
What are the modifications in the rules?
October 4 onwards, there will only be a single red list of countries. For travel from countries not on the red list, the rules depend on the traveler’s vaccination status.
What about travelers from India?
The list of approved vaccines recognizes the entire course of the Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna, or Janssen vaccines from a relevant public health body in Australia, Antigua, and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Dominica, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea or Taiwan. It also allows the mixing of two-dose vaccines (Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna).
Although India’s vaccination drive predominantly uses Covishield, a version of the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, India has been kept out of the list.
What does this move mean?
The decision effectively suggests that Indians administered with Covishield, the same vaccine as the UK’s AstraZeneca, have to take a pre-departure Covid-19 test in the three days before traveling to England; book and pay for day-2 and day-8 tests to be tested in England; and quarantine at home for ten days.
The traveler can complete the quarantine early if she can pay for a private Covid-19 test through a ‘test to release’ scheme. For example, if he arrives in England on a Monday, Tuesday will be his first full day of the quarantine, and he can opt for a second test not earlier than the fifth day, which will be Saturday. If the result for the day-5 test is negative, he can stop quarantine, but he will still need to take the compulsory day-8 test.
What happens next?
Government sources stated they are invoking the reciprocity principle. They said a ‘note verbale’ (a diplomatic note that is more formal than an aide-mémoire and less formal than a note) had been sent to the UK Embassy, where they have said UK citizens will also be subject to 10 days’ quarantine. Government sources also revealed that the UK decision is not linked to the addition of Serum Institute of India as an alternative manufacturing site on the ‘Vaxzevria’ license granted to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
On the day India warned to counter against the new British travel guidelines, sidelining those who are immunized with Covishield in the category of the “unvaccinated,” the US said it would open up to “fully vaccinated” travelers from November onwards.
The New York Times quoted the White House pandemic administrator Jeff Zients, as stating international travel was “critical to connecting families and friends, to fuelling small and large businesses, and to promoting the open exchange of ideas and culture.”
Reports in the American media said the rule would apply to most countries, including India. Presently, the US acknowledges only its citizens and members of their immediate families, green card holders, and those with national interest exemptions (NIE) if they have been in India in the previous two weeks.