LONDON: About 21 British Parliamentarians have written a letter to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, questioning why Pakistan has not yet been removed from the red list for travel and urging that it be promoted to the amber list “as soon as possible”.
Pakistan was placed on the red list in early April and India followed on April 19 due to surging case numbers and the emergence of the Delta variant.
In an update issued by the British government earlier this month, India, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were to be moved up to the amber list from August 8 but Pakistan remained on the red list — a move that was criticised by some British lawmakers.
In the letter dated August 12, the lawmakers, led by Labour MP and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pakistan Yasmin Qureshi, state that they made a series of moves to understand their government’s decision to retain Pakistan on the red list, including writing to various departments who have “provided no real answers to our very serious questions”.
The lawmakers also tabled parliamentary questions, many of which were not answered by the government and it was not obliged to answer any more since the parliament was no longer in session, the letter notes.
“When other countries in the Asia region were moved to the Amber List, announced on 5 August 2021, many of us wrote to the government and tried to understand the rationale behind the decision to move some countries but not Pakistan.
“From initial discussions with British Government officials, it was suggested that Pakistan had not provided any data for June or July, that their vaccination rates were not as high as required, and that there was not enough genome sequencing underway to warrant a change in status,” it says.
Following is the text of four-page letter addressed by Yasmin Qureshi MP to Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Pakistan’s Status on the ‘Red List’ for travel
We are writing to you regarding the issues and disparities around Pakistan’s status on the Red List in light of recent conversations with UK Government officials as well as the Pakistani Government and the two High Commissioners.
As you will know, Pakistan was placed on the Red List for travel from 9 April 2021, alongside a range of other countries including Kenya, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. Since then, we have collectively tried to ascertain why exactly Pakistan was placed on the Red List, what the methodology was behind this decision, and what it must do to be taken off the Red List.
In attempting this, we have undertaken a range of actions. We have written letters to various UK Government departments, including the Department for Transport, the Department for Health and Social Care, and the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office, all of whom have provided no real answers to our very serious questions.
Like many other MPs, we have tabled numerous Parliamentary Questions, many of which were not answered as the Government provided ‘holding’ answers, and when the Parliamentary Session ended, it is no longer obliged to provide an answer. We have also engaged in a range of media appearances drawing light to this issue.
When other countries in the Asia region were moved to the Amber List, announced on 5 August 2021, many of us wrote to the Government and tried to understand the rationale behind the decision to move some countries but not Pakistan. From initial discussions with British Government officials, it was suggested that Pakistan had not provided any data for June or July, that their vaccination rates were not as high as required and that there was not enough genome sequencing underway to warrant a change in status.
Upon discussion with the Pakistan High Commissioner and Officials, it was clear that up to date data for June and July had been provided to the JCVI, the FCDO, and the UK Government more generally. It has subsequently been confirmed by various parties that the British authorities were aware of this information.
There has also been a great deal of confusion around the public health messaging regarding this decision. In the House of Commons, the Secretary of State for Transport said the decision was based on data, yet in a recent letter, Robert Courts said it was related to vaccination rates and potential inaccuracies in coronavirus reporting figures. Jo Churchill said that it was because of a “deteriorating epidemiological position,” which does not appear to be the case at all.
We have repeatedly asked for a clear reason for this decision, yet these interactions left us in a more confused state than beforehand – this is a very serious issue which is impacting a diaspora which totals well over 1 mission. It is preventing family members from attending funerals, students starting at university, and is splitting families, all whom are unable to pay for the extortionate hotel quarantine.
In light of Minister Jo Churchill’s letter, which sets out the UK Government’s ‘rationale’ behind the decision, and in conversations with the Secretary of State for Health regarding data, Pakistani scientists responded to these concerns. Dr. Faisal Sultan, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Imran Khan, has provided a full explanation of Pakistan’s handling of the pandemic and this has been sent to the Secretary of State for Health. It is pertinent to draw your attention to the most salient aspects of his letter, regarding Pakistan’s management of the pandemic:
“The overarching principle has been a sustainable. Data driven, differentiated set of responses and restrictions to bring in a state of normalcy while at the same time pursuing aggressive vaccination coupled. This has resulted in successfully containing the spread of the disease over a period of 500 days.”
“Pakistan has a centralised and coordinated data management mechanism for testing, contact tracing, quarantine, hospital bed occupancy, deaths and vaccination. This system leverages the national digital identity database and the integration of this into pandemic policy and response have played a vital role in managing epidemic and the pressure on the health system and keeping mortality rates low. The use of geospatially mapped information has helped in a targeted approach to enforcement of targeted and accurate enforcement of NPIs.”
“A Resource of Management System developed for the pandemic provides near real-time visibility of census and other data from 4000 hospitals through integration with provincial systems, thus facilitating decision making for need assessment and capacity enhancement.”
“Effective measures to control influx of virus via travel are in place including the requirement of pre-travel PCR tests and a rapid antigen test on arrival (including a 10-day quarantine for those testing positive).”
“Vaccinations remain a core pillar of Pakistan’s strategy. With improving vaccine supplies, the daily vaccination rate has exceeded one million doses. About 29.7 million people have been vaccinated of which 10.6 million are fully vaccinated and 19.1 million are partially vaccinated. The aim is to vaccinate 100 million persons by the end of 2021. The immunisation data, like testing data, is linked to digital the national digital identity and allows for reliable and real-time capture of immunisation data of citizens which provides visibility of vaccination drive across country and ensures accurate data and immunisation record management and generation of verifiable covid immunisation certificates.”
As can be seen from Dr. Sultan’s letter, it is quite clear that the vaccination rates in Pakistan are good, with a specific focus on WHO-approved vaccines, and that genomic sequencing is underway, albeit in a more limited capacity than in the UK. Pakistan has, overall, responded well to the pandemic, when compared with international partners. It has implemented PCR and lateral flow testing for travellers as well as a quarantine system.
It is clear that the UK Government is concerned about the risks from travel, but what is perhaps most clear is that Pakistan is mitigating travel risks and is well aware of the risk of new variants and an increase in cases.
In light of all of the above, we would therefore ask that the Government reassess its position and moves Pakistan onto the Amber List as soon as possible.
Yasmin Qureshi Chair of the APPG Pakistan
Rehman Chishti MP Co-Chair of the APPG on Pakistan
Tahir Ali MP
Paul Blomfield MP
Liam Byrne MP
Stella Creasy MP
Andrew Gwynne MP
Imran Hussain MP
Lord Qurban Hussain
Afzal Khan MP
Lord Wajid Khan of Burnley
Rt. Hon. Dame Diana Johnson MP
Sir Tony Lloyd MP
Khalid Mahmood MP
Sarah Owen MP
Naz Shah MP
Virendra Sharma MP
Mohammad Yasin MP
The Rt. Hon. Sajid Javid M.P. -Secretary of State for Health and Social Care
The Rt. Hon. Doninic Raab M.P. – Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Affairs
The Rt. Hon. Grant Shapps M.P. -Secretary of State for Transport
Earlier British lawmakers on Thursday (August 5) criticised their government’s “callous” decision to keep Pakistan on its “red list” for international travel but promote India to the “amber list” despite the latter’s Covid-19 situation being more serious and it also being where the rampant Delta variant of coronavirus was first detected.
The United Kingdom operates a “traffic light” system for international travel, with low-risk countries rated green for quarantine-free travel, medium risk countries rated amber, and red countries requiring arrivals to spend 10 days in isolation in a hotel.
Bradford West MP Naz Shah said she was “surprised” at the move, adding that it was not the first time the UK had exhibited “callous behaviour” in managing its quarantine traffic light system.
She questioned why Pakistan was still on the red list when its seven-day infection was 14 per 100,000 people compared to India’s 20 per 100,000 and “well below the vast majority of amber list destinations”.
“The last time this government favoured political choices rather than science and risked our nation’s Covid efforts, it failed to place India on the red list,” she said. “That led to the Delta variant becoming the most prominent Covid variant in the UK.”
Terming the decision “unacceptable”, she vowed to raise the issue further.
Bolton South East MP Yasmin Qureshi, too, noted that Pakistan remained on the red list despite “not having any variants of concern”.
She said she had questioned the government and made efforts to address the issue but nothing came of it.
“The government is seeking to penalise Pakistan in favour of potential economic benefit,” she said. “This is clear and blatant discrimination towards Pakistan.”
“To add insult to injury, the hotel quarantine cost is set to increase by between £450-£800, to a total of £2,200,” she tweeted.
She said she was writing a letter to Britain’s transport minister, Grant Shapps, on the issue.
Labour MP for Luton North, Sawah Owen, also said it was difficult to understand the reasoning behind the latest changes.
“When you see figures like this, Tory ministers have a lot of explaining to do as to why India is going amber yet Pakistan and other countries remain red,” she said.
“Decisions taken in isolation with no scrutiny are never good for the people we seek to represent. These decisions have big health [and] personal consequences,” she tweeted.