Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar on Saturday questioned Britain’s decision to place four more nations, including Pakistan, on the “red list” of countries effective April 9.
The United Kingdom had said that the decision to add Bangladesh, Kenya, Pakistan and the Philippines to the list was based on advice from public health experts as well as scientific data.
“Every country has a right to take decisions to safeguard the health of their citizens. However, the recent decision by the UK government to add some countries, including Pakistan, on the ‘red list’ raises a legitimate question whether the choice of countries is based on science or foreign policy,” he said.
The minister also shared a letter written by British MP Naz Shah to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab dated March 30, prior to restrictions being announced.
“I have a large Pakistani diaspora within my constituency which is why I am writing to simply ask, what scientific data is any decision being led by,” Shah asked in the letter.
He said that according to recent available data, France, Germany and India had substantially higher numbers of infections per 100,000.
“It must also be noted that the South African variant isn’t a concern in Pakistan whereas this isn’t the case for example in France and other countries. This begs the question why hasn’t the government extended the red list to France, Germany, and India?” the British MP had questioned.
Shah had concluded that the British government did not have a coherent strategy for dealing with the ‘red list’ and was applying decisions led by politics and not data.
“Contrary to what the government is saying, it is clearly not making decisions fed by science/data. Further, it is knowingly and consciously discriminating against Pakistan and the Pakistani diaspora community,” Shah said.
Under the new restrictions that will come into force next week, passengers from Pakistan will be denied entry to the UK unless they are British or Irish nationals or have residency rights.
The cost for one adult in a government-approved hotel room for 10 days is £1,750, which does not include the mandatory £210 each passenger has to pay for testing in this period. A negative PCR test in this time does not shorten the duration of the quarantine.
British High Commissioner Christian Turner in a video message said: “I know how unwelcome this news will be for all of you and for so many of the British Pakistani community that is the bedrock of our strong relationship.”
Sources told Dawn one of the reasons behind Pakistan’s inclusion on the “red list” is that a significant percentage of those arriving from Pakistan tested positive on day two and day eight of their arrival in the UK.
As the UK prepares a phased-lifting of the national lockdown from April 12 in light of lower daily cases, the potential spread of Covid-19 in the Pakistani British community in the UK was a factor in the decision to restrict travel.
A spokesman for the UK’s transport department that reviews this list said: “The decision to add and remove countries from the red list is made by ministers informed by the latest scientific data and public health advice from a range of world-leading experts.”
“The risk assessments cover a range of factors for each country including assessment of surveillance/sequencing capability, available surveillance/genome sequencing data, evidence of in-country community transmission of Covid-19 variants, and travel connectivity with the UK.”
Pakistan requires a ‘sandwich test’ for passengers arriving from the UK, which means they need to show a negative Covid-19 PCR test within 72 hours of departure and also test on arrival at the airport.
The majority of travel between Pakistan and the UK in recent weeks has been taking place via direct flights operated by British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, as the UAE, Oman and Qatar, are on the red list and their airlines cannot fly to destinations in the UK.