External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar suggested on Thursday that going forward some kind of understanding would have to be developed among nations over COVID-19 vaccination certificates rather than on particular vaccines for foreign travel, but acknowledged it would be a challenge as some countries will push the viewpoint that their vaccines are a must. Jaishankar also expressed hope that an indication about the World Health Organisation’s approval to Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin is likely by September.

In his remarks at a plenary session of the CII Annual Meeting, Jaishankar asserted that the world stood by India during the second wave of Covid, especially in terms of oxygen supply and medicines as the country had helped others in the first wave of the pandemic. Asked about the need for global vaccine passports and problems being faced by Indians in foreign travel, he said a lot of this travel impediment is speculation and not fact based.

“The US does not insist on your being vaccinated to enter the US, it insists on you being RT-PCR negative before you board a plane. At the moment there is an India issue because they are not allowing people who have been in India for a certain period immediately to go to the US directly,” Jaishankar pointed out.

“I would say, still the general practice (for foreign travel) right now is very much testing-based rather than vaccination-based,” he said.

Jaishankar pointed out that the problem arose when Europe started issuing a notification that those with certain kinds of vaccinations would be exempt from quarantine. “We took up that issue bilaterally with a whole lot of European countries and made sure that initially Covishield which was excluded is included,” he said.

Noting that travel to Europe for those who have taken Covaxin was still a problem, he expressed optimism that this was likely to change once the WHO gives its approval to it.

“Typically, the WHO takes two months plus to look at this and Covaxin filed its application on July 9, so I am hopeful that some time, maybe in September, we should get some kind of an indication (on approval for Covaxin),” Jaishankar said.

He argued that the regulator has recognised only a limited set of vaccines so if countries only receive those who have been administered those jabs, very few foreigners will be able to enter any country. “So, the answer to my mind will have to be some kind of understanding over vaccination certificates not on vaccines. There is a precedent for it in yellow fever, there were yellow fever certifications,” he said.

Jaishankar noted that these conversations are beginning to get traction and that the International Civil Aviation Organization has been having such discussions. The minister, however, added that he does see the issue as a challenge because some countries “will try to get across a viewpoint that their vaccines are a must”.

There will be a “push and pull” out here, he said and asserted that India as a country whose people look at the world as a global workplace where mobility and migration matter so much, it would be a priority as to how Indians are able to travel with least restrictions.

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