UK decides to remove Pakistan from 'red list' for travel after 5 months

Published September 17, 2021
A view of the Heathrow Airport in London. — Wikimedia Commons
A view of the Heathrow Airport in London. — Wikimedia Commons

The United Kingdom on Friday decided to take Pakistan off its "red list" for international travel after five months, British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.

Eight countries and territories, including Pakistan, Turkey and Maldives, will come off the travel red list at 4am on Sept 22, he announced via Twitter.

In addition, testing was being made easier for travellers to the UK, Schapps said.

"From Oct 4, if you’re fully [vaccinated] you won't need a pre-departure test before arrival into England from a non-red country and from later in Oct, will be able to replace the day 2 PCR test with a cheaper lateral flow," he shared.

The secretary also announced that the UK was scrapping its "traffic light" system for international travel, according to which low-risk countries were rated green for quarantine-free travel, medium risk countries were rated amber, and red countries required arrivals to spend 10 days in isolation in a hotel.

From Oct 4, there would be a "simplified system" for international travel, he said. Under the new proposal, there would be a single red list while the rules would be simplified for all other countries, the secretary added.

While a lot has yet to be made clear by UK authorities, an update on the British government's website said "passengers who aren’t recognised as being fully vaccinated with authorised vaccines and certificates under England’s international travel rules, will still have to take a pre-departure test, a day 2 and day 8 PCR test and self-isolate for 10 days upon their return from a non-red list country under the new two-tiered travel programme."

Passengers considered unvaccinated may be able to end quarantine early if they pay for a private Covid-19 test through the Test to Release scheme, according to the update.

The news regarding the lifting of the travel restrictions was also shared by British High Commissioner to Pakistan Christian Turner.

"Pleased to confirm Pakistan is off the red list. I know how difficult the last 5 months were for so many who rely on close links between the United Kingdom & Pakistan," he tweeted.

He said he was grateful to Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Faisal Sultan, federal minister Asad Umar and the Pakistan health ministry "for their close collaboration".

Turner said the UK "will continue to work closely with Pakistan to ensure data sharing and safeguard public health in both countries".

"No one is safe until everyone is safe."

'Finally the right decision'

Reacting to the development, Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives, Asad Umar, said: "Good to know finally the right decision [has been] taken to take Pakistan off red list."

Umar appreciated the UK High Commission for its support as well as British parliamentarians for "conveying facts about the Covid situation in Pakistan".

SAPM Dr Faisal Sultan termed the decision "great news" for travellers. He also appreciated the British high commissioner and UK government officials for engaging with Pakistani officials for "in-depth understanding of our epidemic response and systems as well as the ongoing sharing of data and information to enable disease security".

Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, who had previously criticised the UK government's "feeble excuse" for retaining Pakistan on the red list, credited Prime Minister Imran Khan's "strong stance" on the issue, UK MPs and data-based responses by the SAPM on health and the National Command and Operation Centre, for the change in travel status.

"Pak was dealt with unfairly so it was time for UK govt to put things right!" she said.

Labour MP for Manches­ter Gorton and Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, Afzal Khan, said he welcomed the "(untimely) step".

"It was clear that the [government] put politics ahead of science. I've spent months urging the [government] to review Pakistan's red list status & I'm pleased they finally listened."

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.

The decision was criticised by UK MPs who dubbed it "consciously and knowingly discriminatory". They also blasted the government for keeping Pakistan on the red list while promoting India to amber in its updated guidelines issued on Aug 4.

Last month, a group of 21 British lawmakers wrote a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, questioning why Pakistan had not yet been removed from the red list for travel and urging that it be promoted to the amber list "as soon as possible".

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