A group of 21 British lawmakers 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".
The UK operates a traffic light system for international travel, with people from low-risk countries rated green for quarantine-free travel, medium-risk countries rated amber and requiring people from red countries to spend 10 days in isolation in a hotel.
Pakistan was placed on the red list in early April and India on April 19 due to the rising number of cases in both the two countries 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.
'Clear that up to date data provided'
However, after discussions with officials from the Pakistan High Commission in London as well as other Pakistani officials, "it was clear that up to date data for June and July had been provided to the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation), the FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office), and the UK government more generally," the letter says.
"There has also been a great deal of confusion around the public health messaging" regarding Pakistan's retention on the red list, it adds.
Referring to Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health (SAPM) Dr Faisal Sultan's recent letter to the UK government, it notes that the official "provided a full explanation of Pakistan's handling of the pandemic".
Quoting excerpts from Dr Sultan's letter, the lawmakers say "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."
The letter points out that Pakistan has "overall responded well to the pandemic when compared to international partners", adding that it had also implemented PCR and lateral flow testing for travellers and established a quarantine system.
"Pakistan is mitigating travel risks and is well aware of the risk of new variants and an increase in cases," the letter notes.
"We ... ask that the government reassess its position and move Pakistan onto the amber list as soon as possible," the letter says.
Sharing the letter, MP Yasmin Qureshi said moving Pakistan to the amber list would "help unite families in times of grief and support students".
Mazari thanks British MPs for penning letter
Reacting to the letter, federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari thanked the MPs for raising the issue.
Mazari had criticised the United Kingdom earlier this week for its "feeble excuse" for retaining Pakistan on its travel red list, adding that the British government had never asked for the country's Covid-19 data.