The UK’s Covid entry criteria have been branded racist as new rules mean that millions of people across Africa, Asia and Latin America will be unable to come into the country without undergoing quarantine, even if they have had a vaccine approved by UK authorities.
Under the new rules – which come into effect on October 4 – only those who have received the AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson and Johnson vaccines from an approved list of countries will be able to avoid a 10-day quarantine when entering the UK.
The list of countries includes the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and some nations in the Middle East.
The UK is an outlier in applying the blanket quarantine rules. Other European governments, including France, Germany and Spain, apply quarantine based on the number of cases in a particular country, or on whether visitors have had a vaccine recognised by European regulators.
The UK policy is based on concerns over certification, but other European countries have found a way around this.
France, for example, says non-European nationals who have had one of the vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency can avoid quarantine if they apply for a vaccine certificate, should they wish to come to the country.
This applies even to those who have received the Covishield vaccine – the Indian manufactured version of the AstraZeneca jab – despite the fact this has not yet been approved by the EMA.
Meanwhile Germany has based its quarantine policy on a country’s infection level. For example, as of September 19 India and South Africa are no longer deemed high risk and visitors who have received one of the four EMA-approved vaccines can enter with a valid vaccine certificate and do not have to undergo quarantine.
The UK is sticking to its policy, even as the US lifted a similar travel ban on European visitors – a reversal hailed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“It’s a fantastic boost for business and trade, and great that family and friends on both sides of the pond can be reunited once again,” Mr Johnson tweeted.
The UK’s entry criteria has provoked outrage in India, particularly as the country exported five million doses of the Covishield vaccine to the UK earlier this year when it was facing its own shortages.
One of India’s leading opposition politicians, Jairam Ramesh of the Congress Party, said the decision “smacked of racism”, given that people who had received the same Covishield vaccine in the UK were not being subject to quarantine.
India's foreign secretary, Harsh Varshan Shringla, has threatened "reciprocal measures" if the UK doesn't reverse the 10-day quarantine for Indians.
"The non-recognition of Covishield is a discriminating policy and impacts our citizens travelling to the UK. The external affairs minister has raised the issue strongly with the new UK foreign secretary. I am told that certain assurances have been given that this issue will be resolved," Mr Shringla added.
Shashi Tharoor, another leading Indian opposition politician and the former Under Secretary at the United Nations, said he had cancelled a planned visit to the UK in protest, including a talk at Cambridge University: “It is offensive to ask fully vaccinated Indians to quarantine.”
A spokesperson for the UK government said its top priority was to protect the health of the public.
The spokesperson added: “We have always said we would take a phased approach to the rollout of our inbound vaccination programme to other countries and territories, building on the success of our pilot with the US and Europe.
“We will review the policy and consider any additions every three weeks at the same time as the red and rest of the world lists.”
The UK’s policy has also angered those in Africa where some analysts have begun to rename the travel red list, ‘the black list’.
Dr Ayoade Alakija, co-chair of the Africa Union Vaccine Delivery Alliance, said: "[The policy] is racist. It is based on the same neo-colonial mindset that has us in the current mess we’re in.
“It’s a nonsensical policy, we know it’s not based on science; so they need to tell us the reasons why. The ripple effect of such policies is that they damage vaccine confidence even further and place doubts in the minds of those from affected regions as to whether they’re receiving vaccines of the same quality and efficacy as those being given in the west."
Dr Githinji Gitahi, chief executive of Amref Health Africa, said: “Don’t ruin our credibility by drafting confusing diplomatic technical travel documents that cast aspersions on our vaccination efforts – if you have concerns over vaccination Certificates, say so in plain English."
Separately, the British High Commissioner to Kenya, Jane Mariott Howe, and Health Cabinet Secretary, Mutahi Kagwe, said in a joint statement that they were establishing a system to mutually recognise each other’s vaccine certificates.
However, they said it was likely to take time to put in place.
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