Two years into the COVID crisis, yet another R-factor has ignited fiery debates across India. This time around it’s got to do with quarantine ‘rules’. The issue has boiled over in the aftermath of the announcement of the UK government’s new international travel rules, which does not recognise people vaccinated in India, as being fully vaccinated. As per the directive, people inoculated in our country will still need to undergo the mandatory 10-day home quarantine protocol, as opposed to the citizens of other nations who can bypass this requirement.
A day after this development broke out, UK officials obliquely hinted that the restrictions were placed on account of concerns regarding vaccination certificates issued in India, which has only added to the confusion. The Opposition here has called out the UK government for its discriminatory decision. It was highlighted that Covishield was the same vaccine being distributed in the UK by AstraZeneca, and that it was manufactured here by the Serum Institute of India, after transfer of technology facilitated by Oxford University and AstraZeneca. India has also been supplying doses of Covishield to the UK, as it is one of the seven vaccines that has been given the WHO’s emergency use approval. So it seems bizarre for the UK government to employ such double standards with Indian passengers.
But it seems a few nations had already raised the entry barrier when it came to Indian travellers, especially in the backdrop of the devastating second wave. Take, for instance, Canada, which had imposed a ban on direct flights from India until September 21. The rules, which have since been updated, had said that during this period, all passengers intending to travel to Canada through an indirect route, are mandated to obtain a pre-departure COVID-19 negative report from a third country before heading to Canada. Owing to this, students from India, who form one of the largest demographics of inbound travellers in Canada have been put through various hardships. From shelling out five to six times as much on tickets to organising themselves for group testing in a third nation, students went through hell and high water to make it to their campuses, only to cough up about $1,000 or more on institutional/hotel quarantine, once they made it to the country.
The future of students who opted for Covaxin, also hangs in the balance, as the vaccine hasn’t been approved by the WHO, which puts them outside the ambit of nations that now require proof of double shots from the list of approved vaccines. It might be hard to fault the nations who are opting to err on the side of caution. But India’s ruling dispensation has not taken things lying down as Foreign Secretary Harsh V Shringla has warned Britain of reciprocal measures, if India is not made a part of the list which as of now includes 17 nations, whose citizens are exempt from quarantine upon arrival in England.
At a time, when the economies of most nations are undergoing stress due to pandemic induced losses, the idea of opening borders for travel, trade, leisure and education could be a shot in the arm. Instead, by embroiling citizens in the legalities of vaccination and quarantine rules, we are only prolonging each other’s miseries. The UK, which is a hub for finance-centric employment, education, and also a major contributor to the global leisure and business travel kitty, stands to lose heavily if it ignores the needs of travellers from India to be treated on a par with those of other nations. If India along with other countries in the global south also chooses to go down the road paved by the likes of the UK and Canada, it might be hard for the international economy to bounce back any time soon.