COVID-19 quarantine: MEA S Jaishankar raises issue during his meeting with UK counterpart Elizabeth Truss

New York: India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who arrived here on Monday to participate in the high-level 76th session of the UN General Assembly, urged for an “early resolution” of the COVID-19 quarantine issue. The MEA also discussed the situation in Afghanistan and the developments in the Indo-Pacific during his meeting with the newly appointed British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss.

Shortly after his arrival in the city, Jaishankar held bilateral meetings with Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein and the UK’s new Foreign Secretary.

The MEA also tweeted, “Pleased to meet new UK Foreign Secretary @trussliz. Discussed the progress of Roadmap 2030. Appreciated her contribution on the trade side. Exchanged views on developments in Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific. Urged early resolution of quarantine issue in mutual interest.”

This was Jaishankar`s first meeting with Truss after she took over as Foreign Secretary from Dominic Raab last week. He said that they exchanged views on Afghanistan, which has been taken over by the Taliban upsetting the security situation in the region, and the Indo-Pacific.

The meeting in New York between Jaishankar and Truss came the same day as the UK announced new COVID-related travel restrictions that sparked sharp criticism and concerns in India.

According to new rules, Indian travellers who have received both doses of the Covishield vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII) will be considered unvaccinated and will have to undergo self-isolation for 10 days.

Travellers from several countries who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine are allowed into the UK without having to quarantine if they meet certain conditions, but not Indians in a move that is seen as discriminatory. 

From October 4, the current “traffic light system” of red, amber, green countries based on levels of COVID-19 risk will be replaced by one red list of countries. The scrapping of the amber list, which is what India is currently on, means a reduced PCR test cost burden only for some travellers.

The expanded list of countries whose vaccines are recognised in the UK does not include India. It means Indians vaccinated with Covishield, the SII-produced Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, would be required to undergo compulsory PCR tests as well as self-isolation.

Meanwhile, the UK has reportedly said it is engaging with India to explore how it could expand the recognition of the COVID-19 vaccine certification issued by Indian authorities amid criticism of the new British travel rules.

Asked about the concerns in India over the new rules that will come into effect next month, a British High Commission spokesperson in New Delhi has said the UK is engaged with India on the issue and is committed to opening up international travel again “as soon as is practicable”.

“The UK is committed to opening up international travel again as soon as is practicable and this announcement is a further step to enable people to travel more freely again, in a safe and sustainable way, while protecting public health,” the spokesperson said.

“We are engaging with the Government of India to explore how we could expand the UK recognition of vaccine certification to people vaccinated by a relevant public health body in India,” the official was quoted bt PTi as saying.

Last week Australia, the UK and the US announced a security pact, AUKUS, that would impact the Indo-Pacific region where India, the US, Australia and Japan are coordinating their strategies to counter China.

Jaishankar arrived in New York on Monday for a heavy round of diplomacy during the High-Level week of the UN General Assembly when leaders from around the world gather.

He started off his round of bilateral meetings with Norway`s Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide, whose country is on the Security Council alongside India as an elected member. “Appreciated our working together in the Security Council,” he tweeted after the meeting.

He also said in his tweet that they had a comprehensive discussion on the situation in Afghanistan where it was “important for the international community to take a unified approach”. 

Iraq Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein was another leader Jaishankar met. “Discussed our historical ties, economic, energy and development cooperation linkages” and “exchanged views on regional and global issues” during their meeting, Jaishankar said.

Notably, Jaishankar and senior Indian officials arrived in New York starting on Monday for the annual high-level UNGA session which returned to a more hybrid and in-person format this year after going virtual last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the week, Jaishankar will meet his counterparts from several member states and participate in the G-20 meeting that will focus on Afghanistan and the G-4 Foreign Ministers meeting with focus on Security Council reforms.

The 76th UNGA session commenced on September 14 under the Presidency of Abdulla Shahid. The high-level week – the General Debate – will commence September 21, with US President Joe Biden addressing world leaders on Tuesday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the General Debate on September 25. 

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