Tom Phillips, Flávia Milhorance in Rio de Janeiro, Emmanuel Akinwotu, and Jon Henley in Paris
England’s Covid travel rules and refusal to recognise vaccines administered across huge swaths of the world have sparked outrage and bewilderment across Latin America, Africa and south Asia, with critics denouncing what they called an illogical and discriminatory policy.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, described England’s rules, unveiled last Friday, as “a new simplified system for international travel”. “The purpose is to make it easier for people to travel,” Shapps said.
But in many parts of the world there is anger and frustration at the government’s decision to recognise only vaccinations given in a select group of countries.
Under the new rules, travellers fully vaccinated with Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna or Janssen shots in the US, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea or an EU country will be considered “fully vaccinated” and exempt from quarantine when they arrive in England from an amber list country.
But people who have been fully vaccinated with the same vaccines in Africa or Latin America, as well as other countries including India, will be considered “not fully vaccinated” and forced to quarantine for 10 days on arrival from an amber list country.
In Europe, there is frustration at Britain’s refusal to accept as “fully vaccinated” people who have had Covid and then a single dose of a two-dose shot. Such people are considered fully vaccinated in most EU countries and are able to travel freely around the bloc with an EU digital Covid certificate.
To visit the UK, however, they must quarantine for 10 days, with UK government guidelines currently requiring people vaccinated with a two-dose vaccine such as Moderna or Pfizer to have had both doses “even if you have recently recovered from Covid-19 and have natural immunity”.
Britain did relax its rules on Wednesday to allow quarantine-free travel by people from Europe who have had doses of two different vaccines. Hundreds of thousands on the continent received mix-and-match shots after the use of AstraZeneca was restricted to older age groups over rare blood clot concerns.
But amid mounting anger abroad at what many view as discriminatory treatment, the Indian politician Shashi Tharoor announced on Monday that he was pulling out of a series of appearances in England to protest the “offensive” decision to ask fully vaccinated Indians to quarantine.
“There isn’t a single person I have spoken to who isn’t angry about this. People are perplexed,” said one exasperated Latin American diplomat.
“How can a Pfizer or Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccine that is administered [in Latin America] not be sufficient for someone to be allowed in? I just don’t see how this can be acceptable. I simply cannot get my head around it,” they added. “I cannot explain what is behind this – I just know that it is very, very, very unfair.”
A west African diplomat condemned the restrictions as “discriminatory”. “[But] it’s not even the discrimination that concerns me the most, it’s the message it sends out,” they added.
“All around the world we’re struggling with vaccine hesitancy. There’s all sorts of fake news. When you say, ‘We are not going to accept the vaccine from Africa’, you lend credence to these kinds of theories. It’s only going to create a situation where it allows the pandemic to be prolonged.”
Ifeanyi Nsofor, a doctor and chief executive of a public health consultancy in Nigeria, said: “The UK is one of the largest funders of the Covax facility and now the UK is saying that the same vaccines they’ve sent, will now not be considered. It’s sad, it’s wrong, it’s discriminatory.”
“To me this is just another layer of Covid-19 vaccine inequity. We’ve been dealing with the fact that richer nations are hoarding vaccines, even when poorer countries can afford them they can’t access enough,” Nsofor added.
The new travel rules came as a severe blow to families who have spent many months separated from their England-based loved ones because of the pandemic.
André Siqueira, a tropical diseases specialist from Rio de Janeiro, said he was desperate to see his four-year-old son who lives in London for the first time in a year. But the new rules made it almost impossible for him to travel to England – despite having been fully vaccinated in red-listed Brazil – since he would have to spend 10 days in an amber list country before spending another 10 days quarantining in England after he arrived.
“There is simply no plausible justification as to why they accept vaccines given in certain countries but not from others,” said Siqueira, 40. “It doesn’t make sense. There’s no logic to this kind of screening,” he said, noting that there had never been such distinctions for the yellow fever vaccine.
Maiara Folly, a UK-based Brazilian academic, said she was also shocked with the new rules. “I can’t see any health criteria to justify this,” said Folly, who runs the thinktank Plataforma Cipó and has been tracking UK travel guidelines for personal and professional reasons.
“I can’t see any reason other than a racial issue, a xenophobia issue,” added Folly, voicing fears that many fellow academics from Brazil – where more than 80 million people have now been fully vaccinated – would be unable to attend the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow because of the harsh rules.
Prof Helen Rees, a medical researcher and chair of the World Health Organization’s African Regional Immunisation Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (Ritag), called the lack of explanation for the new travel rules “unfortunate” and the restrictions “inexplicable”.
“Does the world do this for any other vaccines? Does the UK say we’re not going to recognise your polio vaccines from Pakistan? No. We accept that your vaccines are safely administered. If we’re worried that there are variants that are resistant to the vaccines, that’s happening all over the world. But the Delta variant is in 100 countries of the world and the vaccines do work against Delta.”
Rees said she hoped the decision would be reconsidered. “I’m not worried that this is cast in stone but I think it’s something that really must be discussed. Not least because if the world starts closing borders to what looks like poorer countries, what does that mean for inequality? For refugees? We can’t close our borders, we must trust the vaccines and we must trust the governments that are administering the vaccines.”
Asked to explain why vaccines administered in certain countries were acceptable but in others not, a government spokesperson said in a statement: “Our top priority remains protecting public health, and reopening travel in a safe and sustainable way, which is why vaccine certification from all countries must meet the minimum criteria taking into account public health and wider considerations.”
The statement did not make clear what those wider considerations were.
In response to international upset at the restrictions, the UK has pledged to work with some countries to recognise their vaccine passports. On Wednesday, the UK high commission in Kenya released a joint statement with the Kenya health ministry, saying the UK recognised vaccines administered in the east African country.
The joint statement recognised there had been “significant public concern about the issue of vaccine certification” but added, “establishing a system to mutually recognise each other’s vaccine passport programme for travel takes time, particularly in an unprecedented pandemic”.
A few months ago some interesting morsels of information were brought to my awareness.
MSALs (modern south Arabian languages) are those languages spoken by modern people living in the southernmost parts of the Arabian peninsula (especially Yemen & Oman) & Soqotra, an island located between Yemen & Somalia. 6 such languages have been identified so far:
- Mahri/ Mehri
- Shahri/ Shehri/ Jibbali
- Bathari/ Batahari/ Bautahari
These are to be distinguished from OSALs, old south Arabian languages also known as Sayhadic, of which 4 have been identified:
- Minaean/ Madhabic
- Qatabanian/ Qatabanic
- Hadramitic/ Hadramautic
Those 4 have gone extinct, but at least 2 OSALs still exist: Razihi & Faifi/ Fifi. However they are endangered and at risk of extinction.
(Incidentally south Arabian people are often MUCH darker-skinned than those in the more northern parts of the region, bearing much stronger resemblance to the people described in many sources as the aboriginal people of Arabia, or Qahtanis. Their facial features are often very similar to those of Dravidian south Asians &/or Habesha east Africans, with some looking rather “Australoid” to my eyes. The Soqotris at least have been shown to have near enough no African ancestry after the initial out-of-Africa migrations and the Mahra at least have Neanderthal genetic contribution on par with Europeans, south Asians & central Asians. On a slight but related tangent, in pre-Islamic times the sage Luqman was described as being from the tribe of ‘Ad therefore Arab, while in Islamic times he’s considered to be Ethiopian. Hmmm, sounds like another example of muslims lying about their own history – assuming Luqman existed…)
As an ignorant outsider I always assumed that everyone in the Arabian peninsula spoke Arabic natively and there were no other languages (I console myself by thinking that probably everyone thought that). However, to these south Arabian people Arabic is foreign and they have to learn it as a 2nd or in some cases 3rd language! What?!?
Again, these people are likely direct descendants of the original Arabs, but Arabic isn’t their native language?!?!?
While discussing it to my girlfriend a hypothesis formulated in my head as some old information fell into place: what if Arabic isn’t an indigenous language to Arabs at all? This sounds kind of mad but allow me to explain the thought process at the time:
Modern Standard Arabic and all its dialects are based predominantly on Qur’anic, aka. classical, Arabic. It’s understandable that people would think this represents a pure unadulterated form of the language but Western historians of the Qur’an are increasingly finding that to not be the case. Some words in the book are not of Arab origin but from other languages, most especially Syriac. Admittedly it isn’t massively different since it’s still in the Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic language family, but it nevertheless has a distinct migratory history throughout the Arabian peninsula. This can be illustrated by the differences between English & German; they share identical roots but are largely unintelligible to modern speakers. Furthermore, MSALs are seen by linguists as much closer in vocabulary & grammar to many tongues on the western side of the Red Sea (ie. east Africa) than to Arabic, while the OSALs have been documented from as long ago as the 8th century BC, while Arabic is generally believed to have been documented from the 1st century CE onwards (as Old Arabic). Furthermore, while the Qur’an was originally spoken in Muhammad’s dialect (Qurayshi) which was spoken in Makkah on the western side of Arabia, the text’s phonology was later converted to that from the eastern side which was more prestigious at the time. I would venture to guess that’s because of its geographical (& presumably cultural) proximity to Mesopotamia, the origin of Syriac which at the time was a lingua franca.
BUT THEN AGAIN!
Arabic can’t be of wholly foreign origins considering that it came from the same roots as all Afroasiatic languages. However, it does appear to have been alien to the vast majority of Yemenis & the Arabian peninsular population in history. Even the ANA (ancient north Arabian) tongues are nowadays seen as distinct from Arabic, even from proto-Arabic. Note that the ANAs all went extinct well before the rise of Arabic.
This ties in with the early Islamic genealogical works, in which scholars categorised Arabs as pure, perishing or Arabised. However this mentions nothing of the languages of those pure and perishing (probably now perished) ones, hence why such modern works are fascinating to me. Furthermore, it may also further explain or elucidate why the Makkans of Muhammad’s time saw Islam as a foreign religion and why Muhammad himself claimed Islam began as something strange. In fact, the religion seems to be the reason why other languages in the peninsula and neighbouring areas have become so rare. To this day speakers of Mahri, Shahri and the other MSALs, as well as Tamazight (Berber language), Tmetremenkeme/ Timetremenkhemi (endonymous name for Coptic, pronunciation dependent on dialect) and others are routinely discriminated against by Arabophones even though they’re pretty much all fellow Muslims. Parsi (Iranian language, Arabised to Farsi) would’ve been eradicated if it weren’t for the efforts of the Iranians’ ancestors. So on top of cultural artefacts and monuments, written works, religions and ethnic identities, Muslims have also been eradicating their neighbours’ languages. Why? Maybe to make sure when they get to jannah (paradise), Arabic will be the only tongue therefore really will be the language of paradise…?
And this is legitimising the claim I’ve heard from some ex-Muslims that Islam is nothing but a pan-Arabist/ Arab nationalist/ Arab supremacist movement. While I still have doubts about that (partly due to the fact that most modern inhabitants of the peninsula are Arabised rather than ethnically pure Arabs, partly due to the fact that not all of the sahābah were Arab) it is true that Islam united all the Arab tribes that existed at the time, even if by force, and the earliest Muslims who left the peninsula to conquer other lands either directly set up or indirectly contributed to ethnic pecking orders that still exist in some form or another.
Our hobo-looking whigger of a prime minister had caught coronavirus and was in hospital but Continue reading So what’s changed with England’s quarter-assed attempt to stop covid-19?
A fun little continuation of Influential Books.
Please note that many books have 2 ISBNs, a 10-digit and a 13-digit, which may be and often are completely different. Be aware that I have taken the 13-digit version and taken off the first 3 digits (978). In a few cases when I couldn’t find the ISBN I’ve listed the ASIN, which contain letters as well as numbers.
Listed in no particular order: Continue reading MORE INFLUENTIAL BOOKS