(CNN) — News that fully vaccinated travelers from India and many African countries will face mandatory quarantine in the UK, despite a relaxation of the country’s inbound travel rules, has caused an outcry and accusations of discrimination.
The UK’s revised travel advisory will take effect on October 4 and visitors from its list of “high risk” countries — including India, more than 20 African countries and most Latin American nations — will still have to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days despite being fully vaccinated.
The backlash against the UK’s revised travel policy had initially stemmed from the reported exclusion of the Covishield shot from the list of approved coronavirus vaccines.
Covishield is manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine maker. The African Union and Africa Centres for Disease Control (ACDC) had described Covishield as the “backbone” of the COVAX initiative, a global vaccine sharing initiative for low- and middle-income countries.
The vaccine was later included in an updated guideline released by UK authorities following a strong reaction from the Indian government and the Africa CDC.
“It’s a message that creates confusion within our own population and a message that doesn’t really speak to solidarity and cooperation.”
George Jobe, the executive director of Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN), told CNN the UK’s stance on vaccine certificates could hurt Africa’s already slow Covid vaccination drive.
“When we consider what we have gone through in Africa for people to get vaccinated amid all sorts of negative information and myths surrounding the Covid-19 vaccine, this news can affect the exercise to vaccinate as many people as possible because it may be misunderstood as though the vaccine being administered in Africa has no efficacy,” Jobe said. “The UK government should revisit its stand.”
The UK government acknowledges there is “frustration” with its new travel policy.
It adds that: “The UK is committed to opening up international travel and we are using our Covid-19 vaccination certification process to enable those wishing to enter the UK to do so safely.”
South Africa’s minister of international relations and cooperation, Naledi Pandor, has described remaining on the UK’s red list as “a political punishment.”
CNN’s Larry Madowo speaks with Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, about her reaction to the UK keeping South Africa on its red list for arrivals as of October 4, 2021. This means that travelers arriving from South Africa – regardless of their vaccinations status – will face onerous entry requirements, including a mandatory minimum 10-day hotel quarantine at a cost of more than $3,000.
“Keeping us on the red list sounds like a political punishment of some kind that we do not understand at all,” Pandor said in an interview with CNN. “Furthermore, I was horrified… to be informed by a South African citizen that a travel agency she was using to plan a trip to the United Kingdom said there’s also some statement from the UK that if you come from a red list country, even if you are vaccinated, they do not recognize your vaccine amount. I find this astounding,” Pandor added.
Fears over vaccine card fraud
The issue of whether the Indian variant of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be accepted for travel has confused travelers since the European Union refused to include it in the European Union Digital Covid Certificate in July.
The certificate enables fully vaccinated people to travel freely within the EU and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved the AstraZeneca shot (branded Vaxzevria) which is manufactured by vaccine makers in Europe, the US, South Korea, and China.
Covishield has since become accepted across parts of Europe, with more than a dozen European countries now recognizing the shot for travel.
There were currently technical conversations ongoing between the builders of the Indian and UK vaccine apps with the aim of moving India and other countries on to its quarantine waiver list, Ellis said.
The UK has said in its statements that they are working “in partnership with the US and EU to recognize vaccine certificates from other countries as part of a phased review of the many Covid-19 vaccine certificates issued across the world.”
Some experts say the illicit trade in vaccine cards and digital passports is to be expected. “Not everyone has access to the vaccine; rollouts are slow in many countries, and people are tired of lockdowns and curfews,” said Michela Menting, who covers cybersecurity for ABI Research.
“If people can easily get hold of a fake passport to avoid restrictions, then they will, and an illicit market will spring up around it.”