LONDON: Despite weeks of lobbying by the Pakistan High Commission and British Pakistani MPs, the UK government’s travel review on Thursday showed no change for the country, which continues to remain on the red list.
The UK government’s decision will come as a blow to travellers from Pakistan, who face a mandatory 10-day hotel quarantine that costs 2,250 pounds if they arrive in the UK.
Labour MP for Manchester Gorton Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, Afzal Khan tweeted: “Completely disappointed by the government’s decision to keep Pakistan on the red list. With the crisis in Afghanistan underway, Pakistan can play a huge role in delivering key humanitarian aid. The decision will upset many and cause major disruption.”
Mr Khan tweeted a letter written to him by MP Robert Courts, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, who responded to Mr Khan’s letter about the government decision to keep Pakistan on the red list during the last travel review.
Mr Courts said, “I recognise the impact that the decision for Pakistan to remain on the red list will have on individuals, however, it is right that the government does all it can to reduce the risk of new strains of Covid-19 being imported into the UK.”
He added that the decision was taken to protect against new variants of Covid-19 “at a critical time for the vaccine programme” in the UK.
“Variants of concern are detected through wider surveillance mechanisms such as genomic surveillance, but capability and capacity for this is limited in Pakistan,” Mr Courts said in the letter. “UK data shows that a relatively high number of travellers were arriving in the UK from Pakistan weekly, of them, there was a relatively high rate of people testing positive for Covid-19, including people testing positive for a variant of concern.”
The letter added, “To consider removing Pakistan from the red list, ministers would need to be satisfied that the risk of variants of concern being imported into the UK has been significantly reduced”.
Earlier this month, Pakistan High Commissioner to the UK Moazzam Ahmed Khan had expressed optimism about Pakistan’s change of status to amber, which would end the hotel quarantine requirement. Mr Khan had said data was being shared with the UK government, and added that he took up Pakistan’s case with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
On Wednesday, the high commissioner shared Pakistan’s latest data with Lord Bethel, parliamentary under secretary of state at the department of health and social care. Despite the lobbying and optimism about Pakistan shifting to the amber list, Thursday’s update showed no change for Pakistan’s status.
The high commission issued a statement on Twitter: “Disappointed with decision to retain Pakistan on Red List. Entails continuing hardship for thousands of Pakistanis and British Pakistanis. Had shared all relevant data. Question mark over equity & consistency of criteria being employed!”
Published in Dawn, August 27th, 2021