Covaxin and Indian travellers

As the world seeks to get back to normalcy, countries are opening up their borders, to international travellers with covid19 protocols. Countries which have opened their borders to international tourists require double vaccination (a WHO approved vaccine), and a negative test report for entry in order to avoid quarantine (the rules with regard to quarantining vary from country to country). While post the second wave of covid 19 in April-May 2021, which was witness to acute oxygen shortage and numerous deaths, most countries had closed their borders to India, in recent months many countries have taken steps towards opening up not just for essential travel (such as students) but also to tourists (Indian tourists account for a large chunk of tourists not just to UAE and Thailand, but in recent years there has been a rise in the number of Indian tourists travelling to western nations, Australia and other ASEAN nations)

 Many countries including UK and US kept their borders open for Indian students, even when covid numbers were rising (Canada did close its borders for sometime). In recent weeks UK, 9 EU member states and Canada have opened their borders to Indian travellers vaccinated with Covishield (which is recognised by WHO) and have removed the requirement of quarantine, while the US will be opening its borders. Singapore, which had stopped the entry of Indian travellers in the aftermath of the second wave earlier this year will permit Indians who have got a double dose of covishield. Travellers will need to quarantine for a period of 10 days.

Along with UK, one of the countries which has adopted a liberal approach towards Indian travellers is UAE. This has been attributed to two major events Expo 2020 (October 1, 2021 to March 1, 2022) and the T20 IPL and then the world cup, which has removed the requirement of double vaccination and requires only an RTPCR.

Certain countries like Australia and New Zealand are yet to open their borders.

Challenges for Indian tourists

While countries may have opened up their borders, certain problems are likely to persist. The real challenge is likely for tourists vaccinated with Covaxin, which has still not been accepted by WHO, and is only accepted by 9 countries. The latest country to accept Covaxin has been Oman, which has said that travellers who have received a double dose of Covaxin will not be required to quarantine (days later Australia also announced that it was recognising the Indian vaccine).

Indian embassy in Oman while commenting on the decision of the Oman government said:

“All passengers from India who have received two doses of Covaxin at least 14 days before the estimated arrival date will now be able to travel to Oman without the requirement of quarantine.

It would be pertinent to point out, that Oman is home to a large Indian expat population and shares close economic ties with India.

Oman’s decision raises two important questions. First, whether many other countries recognise Covaxin without a WHO approval. Waiting for a WHO approval means losing out on potential tourists – since a large number of Indians have got vaccinated with Covaxin. It is not only Oman, but even some EU countries like Greece and Estonia and Australia which have recognised Covaxin.

The second important point to bear in mind is that while EU, UK and some other countries have opened their borders to Indian travellers, it is GCC countries which have taken the lead in thinking out of the box. This will not only result in attracting more tourists, but will also further strengthen ties between India and GCC. While UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman are home to a significant Indian population the steps taken by GCC countries, especially Oman and UAE, send out a positive message (many other countries which attract tourists from the developing world,  and have close economic linkages have not been particularly fair in their approach towards not just India but many other developing countries)

The approach taken by UAE and Oman is a strong illustration of why GCC countries are an attractive destination not just for blue collared workers, but professionals as well, given the geographical proximity, close historical and cultural linkages and the economic opportunities there. As it is, Dubai has emerged as an even more popular destination for High Networth individuals (HNI) in recent years.

In conclusion, the decision of countries to open their borders will be driven by the trajectory of the pandemic. In recent weeks there has been a sudden increase in countries like Russia, USA, UK and Singapore and it remains to be seen, if this will have any bearing on the decision of countries. At the same time, countries also need to look at their economies and without throwing caution to the winds they need to open up to tourists, given the contribution which the tourism sector makes to the economy. Apart from covid19 precautions, one way for certain countries could be to open up only certain cities as is being done by Thailand and Vietnam. Indian tourists who have already started travelling to various countries would be keeping a close watch on rules and regulations of various countries. It also remains to be seen if other GCC countries will also liberalize rules for Indian tourists as UAE and Oman have done.

Tridivesh Singh Maini
Tridivesh Singh Maini
Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India