Koneru Humpy plans her day around her young daughter's online classes and follows the progress of Indian teammates away in the Catalonian coastal town of Sitges these days. Over the board chess tournaments are making a staggered return but the world No 3 is holding off travel plans.
Humpy, who last played an over the board tournament in February 2020, has already been forced to miss two competitions in a month - the European Club Cup in North Macedonia and the World Women's Team Chess Championship, currently underway in Spain. The reason India's top female chess player's return to over the board chess has been halted is as bizarre as is unfortunate: being vaccinated with the indigenously developed Covid-19 Covaxin.
"It's strange that the vaccine that was given out on priority puts you in a position where you can't travel," Humpy told ESPN. "When I took it, I honestly didn't expect that anything like this could happen. We are not aware of these things either. I was just looking for the best possible vaccine. In fact, I was given the vaccine on priority at a government hospital since I was to supposed compete at the Grand Prix in Gibraltar earlier this year. Most of the other players who got vaccinated after me didn't opt for Covaxin because by then I think there was already talk on travel restrictions. It's funny that the vaccine that is supposed to help me travel is the reason I can't travel."
The World Health Organization (WHO) is yet to give its nod for Covaxin's emergency use authorisation. In the absence of the world body's approval, those inoculated with Covaxin are treated as "unvaccinated" by most countries, making overseas travel tough. It is understood that WHO has sent further technical queries to the Hyderabad-based manufacturer Bharat Biotech. Right now, Covaxin is approved by only a handful of European countries. Had Humpy travelled to Spain with her current vaccination status, she would have had to quarantine for 10 days. Oxford/AstraZeneca, manufacturer of the Covishield vaccine meanwhile, is approved by 122 countries.
"When I wrote to the Spanish embassy, they replied that Covaxin is not an acceptable vaccine in Spain", says Humpy. "My original plan was to travel to North Macedonia and then fly to Spain from there, but I faced the same issue for both countries."
Padmini Rout, who was supposed to be Humpy's first-choice replacement in the Teams Championship, also had to sit out for the same reason. The AICF tried to intervene so that Humpy, the country's best player, who was set to lead the team could circumvent the hurdles, but little came of it. Mary Ann Gomes was eventually named as replacement and the five-member team which also includes Harika Dronavalli, Tania Sachdev, R Vaishali and Bhakti Kulkarni have made the quarterfinals of the tournament.
"I'm glad the team is doing well," says Humpy. "Right now I'm making no plans for any over the board tournaments since there are too many restrictions on Covaxin travellers. I do miss classical chess and online chess certainly doesn't match sitting across your opponent. The timings in online chess events are generally late too. Perhaps there's little I can do but wait till the vaccine is approved. My days now go by in running around my little daughter and following the news, looking out for an update on vaccine approval."