Expatriate Indians who are residents of Oman and received the COVID-19 vaccine Covaxin when they were stranded in India owing to the travel ban since April have been in a heightened sense of suspense in the last few days. Many Indians have received the Bharat Biotech-developed vaccine back home and awaited clear guidelines on approved vaccines before they can return to Oman.
Their worst fears came true on Monday following Civil Aviation Authority’s announcement lifting the travel restrictions from 21 countries, including India, starting September 1 for those immunised with vaccines approved in Oman. Currently, Covaxin is not approved in the sultanate which will leave thousands of expats stranded in India because of differences in vaccine policies.
Amjad Khan, who works with a restaurant in Muscat, flew to India on an emergency in May and was stranded. In anticipation of resumption of flights, he opted for Covaxin as the gap between two doses is shorter than the Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine sold with the brand name of Covishield in India. “Also, it is easily available and everyone recommended it for its better efficacy. But now I’ve come to know that Oman will not allow people who took Covaxin. This is unfair and discriminatory,” Khan claimed.
Covishield and Covaxin have almost the same uptake in India. In June, the Indian government stated that 1.35bn doses of vaccines will become available between August and December, including 500mn doses of Covishield and 400mn doses of Covaxin.
Baboo Joseph recently recruited a person from India who cannot travel to Oman because he is vaccinated with Covaxin. “When it has undergone all formalities and is being used extensively in India, what’s the point of the Gulf countries not allowing expats vaccinated with Covaxin?” Joseph asked.
“Indian embassies and Indian Social Clubs in the Gulf should take up the matter with governments and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a solution. There are many working people who have taken Covaxin in the hope of expediting their return. Now instead, Covaxin has jeopardised their return and their jobs.”
Last week, Kuwait announced that its expat residents who have received Chinese and Russian vaccines outside the country – including Sinopharm, Sinovac and Sputnik V, which are not approved by it – can enter the country provided they take an additional dose of one of the four approved vaccines – Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
According to PM Jabir, community welfare secretary of Indian Social Club, the matter can be solved through diplomatic channels. “The Indian government should convince the receiving countries – especially the Gulf governments – that Covaxin is safe.”
He informed that the southern Indian state of Kerala has taken up the matter with the Government of India. “We, as a social group, have also asked the government. There are many who have been contacting me from India.”
In his capacity as director of Non-Resident Keralite Affairs (NORKA) Welfare Board, Jabir has asked “the Kerala government to put more pressure on the central government. Simultaneously, I will also ask the Indian Embassy”.
Bheem Reddy, chairman of Emigrants Welfare Forum in Hyderabad, India, said, “The decision is not right. Whatever the vaccine or even a mix – any COVID-19 vaccine must be allowed.”
Allowing flights from India to the Gulf states, he noted, is not in the hands of the Government of India. “Also, India is providing a second dose of vaccine for international travellers within a span of 28 days, while for the general public it is 84 days. The government is trying its best to help its citizens.”