In the recent cricket Test Series between England and India the 2-1 result in favour of the visitors still hangs in balance entirely due to the fact that a few non-playing members of Team India were found COVID-19 positive which implies that the fifth and the last Test had to be cancelled only because of India’s fault even though not a single playing member of the team got the infection. Now, the change in travel regulations for Indians visiting United Kingdom could be a fallout of the cricket hanger, meaning that the Indians are feared as more prone to getting or spreading the COVID-19 virus with its variants; that India is the originator of the more infectious Delta variant which is again mutating into the Delta Plus; and perhaps also possibly that the handling of the Second Wave of the pandemic in India had been disastrous. Therefore, basically the Englishmen could be feeling insecure with vulnerable Indians loitering around in their territories after sort of achieving the feat of living with the virus and opening up everything including the cricket stadiums to the crowds without the necessity of even masks. They are conveniently forgetting the basic truth that vaccine breakthroughs are possible also for fully vaccinated people everywhere in the world, not just India.
What the UK government has done is very wrong, unexpected and absurd: that the Indian travellers, irrespective of vaccinated or not, will have to undergo at least two RT-PCR tests and have to be on 10-day quarantine after arriving there. Apart from the unnecessary inconvenience and exorbitant costs involved, particularly for the Indian students going there to study, this basically implies that the vaccines in India are fakes, and a fully vaccinated person in India becomes ‘unvaccinated’ once s/he arrives in UK. Why? The Indian vaccine Covishield is in fact a licensed product of UK, being the officially valid version of their homemade AstraZeneca vaccine developed by the Oxford University, and in more significantly India had exported millions of doses of Covishield to their country earlier. The fully India-made Covaxin has been proved to be as effective as any other vaccine of the world in preventing at least the serious form of the disease and hospitalization.
The Government of India and the Ministry of External Affairs have already lodged a strong protest with the United Kingdom government calling the measures discriminatory and also warned of adopting reciprocal action. If unresolved, this is going to seriously hamper the healthy bilateral relations between the two countries. The UK foreign department has assured India of a re-look into it, but so far the discriminatory regulations are not lifted. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also rebuked UK for such actions. However, it is the WHO that has not yet approved either Covishield or Covaxin for emergency use all over the globe despite the former’s link to the approved AstraZeneca and the latter being proven safe and effective. This raises a crucial question about the authenticity of the respective drug regulatory authorities of various countries: are all the regulators only country-specific and not valid for other regulators? This absurd situation must change, if only to give the proper respect to the medical scientists and experts involved tirelessly in the vaccine-making and the approving process in the shortest possible time. And the Indians figure prominently in the number of medical scientists or experts involved in the process across the world, apart from the fact the India has been the largest vaccine supplier to the world.
Earlier the discussion had been about ‘vaccine nationalism’; now as the situation warrants we’ll have to discuss about the syndrome of the ‘vaccine superpowers’ and the inequalities emerging out of that with one block denying or not recognizing the other block. For example, the Russian and the Chinese vaccines are yet to be accepted across the globe without WHO approval. Former US President Donald Trump still seems to have the trump card by giving everything, during his last year in office, into the development of the most modern Messenger RNA (mrna) vaccines, namely Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which are available for use across the globe. However, developing countries like India and other poor countries cannot afford these vaccines due to very high prices and the storage hassles. Ultimately, the WHO has to take up such vexing issues as it had earlier made international sharing of the ready vaccines compulsory for all countries.
The absolutely wrong and the discriminatory measures of the United Kingdom, almost smacking of racism, must be lifted as soon as possible and the WHO must expedite the approval process of the Indian vaccines and other proven vaccines of the world. The priority should be completely on freeing Planet Earth from the curse of the pandemic in the fast track, and definitely not on rivalries, racism, nationalism and bilateral or international fights or skirmishes.
As per latest reports UK has included Covishield in their list of approved vaccines which would take effect only from 4th October 2021. But to confound matters further the authorities have refused to accept India’s CoWin vaccine certificates, and this means the 10-day quarantine plus tests continues still for Indian travelers.