LONDON: Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Moazzam Ahmad Khan, has said he had spoken to the British prime minister who had assured him his government was “looking into” a recent decision to keep Pakistan on a red list of countries for travel.
Travelers on the UK’s red list are required to undergo a costly 10-day hotel quarantine on arrival and also need to take a COVID-19 test before they enter the United Kingdom.
The changes — which came into effect on August 8 — put India, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, and France on England’s so-called “amber” list that mandates virus tests before and after arrival for those jabbed in those territories.
“We feel the system they [British authorities] have adopted to assess Pakistan does not present an accurate picture of our COVID-19 situation, and this needs to be corrected,” Khan was quoted by Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper as telling reporters at a briefing. “I had an opportunity to speak to Prime Minister [Boris] Johnson and brought it to his attention that keeping Pakistan on the red list has left both people in Pakistan and the diaspora frustrated and disappointed. He said ‘we are looking into it’.”
According to Khan, the two key reservations of the UK government were insufficient genomic surveillance of new variants in Pakistan, and low testing.
“We feel the sample size of our daily tests is adequate to make informed decisions,” the ambassador said, adding that Pakistan also had a low number of daily deaths from the coronavirus.
“Those [daily deaths] cannot be hidden, and the demand for oxygen and ventilators too cannot be concealed,” he added. “So, their decision should not be based on one thing, but after considering all factors. We feel when assessing Pakistan’s situation, all elements were not considered.”
Khan said the UK government could achieve its main aim — to prevent entry of infected passengers, especially the entry of new variants, into the UK — through PCR and antigen tests.
“They are concerned about new variants [coming into the UK] and say our genomic surveillance is not adequate,” Khan said. “Of course, there may be room for more work, but our data gives us a clear picture. And our assessment shows that the variant of concern in Pakistan is not Beta, but mainly the UK and then Delta variant.”
Dr. Faisal Sultan
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan has written a letter to British Health Secretary Sajid Javid, comparing Pakistan’s pandemic statistics with those of other countries in the region and pointing out “obvious discrepancies” that highlight the better situation here.
In the letter, shared by Federal Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari on Twitter, the PM’s aide suggested that in order to reduce the health risk associated with travel during the pandemic, the UK may shift attention towards “interventions focused directly on traveller, rather than on other metrics”.
He proposed a three-pronged approach — including a “valid proof of having received a WHO (World Health Organisation) approved Covid-19 vaccine, a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test (72 hours prior to departure) and a rapid antigen test at the airport, pre-departure” — as a measure to curb the risk of virus spread through travel instead of the British government’s traffic light system.
Pakistan was placed on the red list in early April and India on April 19 due to the rising number of cases in the two countries and the emergence of the Delta variant.
In a recent update issued by the British government earlier this month, India, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were moved to the amber list from August 8 while Pakistan remained on the red list — a move that was also criticised by British lawmakers.
The decision had raised eyebrows, provided that India has been witnessing a significantly higher number of infections than Pakistan, and some had gone on to say that the decision was “political” and not led by scientific data.
Britain, however, has attributed the move to a “combination of deteriorating epidemiological situation, combined with low testing rates and limited genomic surveillance” in Pakistan.