• PM’s aide welcomes decision as ‘great news’
• Seven more countries to get respite

ISLAMABAD: The United Kingdom on Friday announced that Pakistan is being removed from its Covid-19 red list for travel.

Pakistan is among the eight countries that would come off the red list from Wednesday (Sept 22). The other countries are Turkey, Egypt, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Oman, Bangladesh and Kenya.

“EIGHT countries and territories will come off the red list from Weds 22 Sept at 4am, incl. TURKEY, PAKISTAN and MALDIVES,” UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps tweeted.

British High Commissioner to Pakistan Christian Turner also tweeted that Pakistan would be off the red list. “I know how difficult the last 5 months were for so many who rely on close links between United Kingdom and Pakistan,” he further said.

Pakistan had been on red list since April due to concerns over the Delta variant of Covid-19. UK, moreover, had reservations about Pakistan’s data of Covid-19 cases in the country and low vaccination rates. Its inclusion in the list meant that it was mandatory for anyone arriving in UK from Pakistan to quarantine for ten days at a designated hotel.

Additionally, the arriving travellers were required to undertake pre-departure testing and mandatory PCR testing on day two and eight of their arrival.

This made travel to UK highly expensive as the travellers had to pay a minimum of £2,285 per adult for hotel quarantine in addition to costly Covid-19 tests.

At the time of Pakistan’s inclusion in red list Naz Shah, a member of UK Parliament for Bradford West, had protested the British government’s decision in a letter to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab alleging that the government was consciously discriminating against Pakistan and the Pakistani diaspora community.

The lawmaker had claimed that the move was “led by politics and not data”.

There is high passenger traffic between Britain and Pakistan, primarily because of the large Pakistani-British diaspora living in the UK. British-Pakistanis now make the second largest ethnic minority group in the UK. They are estimated to be around 1.5 million.

According to travel agents, there were nearly 95,000 trips from Pakistan to UK in 2019.

Pakistan was expected to be moved from red list to amber list at the last review three weeks back. However, it was retained on the pretext that Pakistan had limited capacity and capability to detect variants of concern. The decision was strongly resented by Pakistani leaders.

UK leaders of Pakistani origin too had expressed disappointment on that occasion.

Labour MP for Manchester Gorton and Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons Afzal Khan had then 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.”

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan later extensively engaged with British authorities to address their concerns, particularly with regards to Covid-19 testing mechanism.

“Great news for those waiting to travel. I am grateful to @CTurnerFCDO and others in the UK gov who engaged with our team for an in depth understanding of our epidemic response and systems as well as the ongoing sharing of data and information to enable disease security,” Dr Sultan tweeted while hailing UK decision to remove Pakistan from red list.

Pakistan’s removal from the red list came at a time when UK announced major changes in Covid-19 rules for international travellers to boost travel.

UK has changed the previous ‘traffic light system’ that had green, amber and red categories.

Secretary Shapps said there would just be a red list from Oct 4 and simplified procedure would be followed for the rest of the world.

“We’re making testing easier for travel. From Mon 4 Oct, if you’re fully vax 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 tweeted.

Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2021

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