England’s COVID-19 travel rules have sparked confusion among people from countries who face tougher restrictions due to the government's decision to only recognize vaccines administered in certain countries.
When England updated its travel rules earlier this month, replacing the traffic light system with what transport secretary Grant Shapps described as a "new clearer travel system," there was fresh hope that people immunized against COVID-19 would safely be able to travel there with relative ease.
But many vaccinated people continue to face tough restrictions because of where they received their vaccines, even when traveling from countries with solid vaccination programs and decreasing COVID-19 case numbers.
Under the new system, travelers who are fully vaccinated with the Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson jabs are exempt from quarantine if traveling from a low-risk country, provided those shots were administered in the UK or an EU country, or from a relevant public health agency in select countries such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of the Middle East, Asia and the Caribbean. That means that people who were vaccinated with the same shots in Latin America, Africa, and many Asian countries are subject to more stringent border protocols, including quarantine.
For instance, people coming from India are potentially required to quarantine for 10 days and undergo tests even if they are fully vaccinated with the Indian-made and World Health Organization-approved AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine. India's foreign secretary Harsh Shringla called the rules "discriminatory", the Associated Press reports; while an editorial in The Hindustan Times slammed England's position on entry rules for Indians as "illogical and harmful".
Following the outcry, the UK government moved to include the AstraZeneca Covieshield as an approved vaccine, but India still isn't on the list of accepted countries in which to receive the shot, according to the BBC. This means that, for now, people who received the Covishield jab in the UK are considered vaccinated, but those who received it in India are not.
Echoing Shringla's claims, Maiara Folly, a UK-based Brazilian international relations and public policy researcher from the non-profit Plataforma Cipó, said she believes the new travel rules lack scientific basis and are "highly discriminatory", particularly as many of the countries whose vaccination schemes are not currently recognised by the UK government have received vaccine donations from the UK.
That includes COVAX, a vaccine that constitutes almost half of the shots applied to the African content and of which the UK is one of the largest supporters, according to a statement from the African Union—who is urging the UK government to ensure mutual recognition of vaccines provided through its donations.
"[The travel policy] discredits the vaccination program of entire regions without taking into account the specific context of particular countries, many of which currently have far lower COVID-19 related cases and deaths than the UK," Ms Folly told Lonely Planet.
The Department for Transport wasn't immediately available to comment on the decision but the Associated Press reports that there could be hope for travelers later down the line. According to the news agency, Kenya's health minister and the British ambassador to Kenya issued a joint statement assuring people that the countries are "establishing a system to mutually recognize each other’s vaccine certificates for a vaccine passport program" but stressed that it takes time. As rules are continually evolving, the UK government could implement similar systems elsewhere too.
Countries around the world are continuing to institute and amend rules on the vaccines they will accept for inbound travel. For example, while England will only accept Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, Spain accepts vaccines that have been approved by the European Medicines Agency or those listed by the World Health Organization for emergency use, which includes Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Sinopharm, Sinovac and Covishield.
As the US announces it will allow vaccinated travelers in November, many people are awaiting the list of vaccines that will be accepted, particularly AstraZeneca, which is not approved for use in the US, but is used widely in the UK and Europe.
England's new rules for travel come into effect on October 4. Scotland and Northern Ireland will use the same travel system as England; keeping the red list and merging the current green and amber travel lists into one to determine entry policies, but it's not yet clear if they will implement the same testing rules. On Monday (September 27) Wales agreed it would also follow England's policy but the Welsh government is still considering the countries to expand the vaccine certification recognition system to over the coming weeks. For more information on traveling to the UK, see the government's website.
This article was first published on September 24 and updated on September 29, 2021.
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