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U.K. Retains Pakistan on Travel Red List

by Newsweek Pakistan

File photo. Farooq Naeem—AFP

In letter to British-Pakistani lawmaker, U.K. minister suggests limited genomic surveillance is primary reason for not reconsidering Pakistan’s status

The latest update to the United Kingdom’s travel red list retains Pakistan, despite a sustained campaign by both Pakistani officials and British-Pakistani lawmakers to get the British government to reverse course and place Pakistan on the less restrictive amber list.

Earlier this month, Pakistan High Commissioner to the U.K. Moazzam Ahmed Khan had told journalists he was “optimistic” about the country being removed from the red-list, adding that all relevant data had been shared with the British government. He said he had also approached U.K. P.M. Boris Johnson directly to plead Pakistan’s case. In a speech, Prime Minister Imran Khan had also lamented the decision, urging the U.K. government to remove Pakistan from the red list.

London’s decision, however, now ensures that travelers from Pakistan would have to submit to a mandatory 10-day quarantine at a hotel designated by the government at their own cost for £2,250.

According to the latest update, seven countries—Canada, Denmark, Finland, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Switzerland, and the Azores—have been moved to the green-list, requiring no quarantine. Thailand and Montenegro, meanwhile, have been added to the red list. There have been no other changes.

Afzal Khan, a Labour M.P. for Manchester Gorton, and the shadow deputy leader of the House of Commons said he was disappointed by the development. “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,” he said in a posting on Twitter. He also shared a letter written to him by Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Transport Robert Courts on the government’s decision to keep Pakistan on the red list.

While acknowledging the impact of the decision on Pakistani travelers, Courts maintained that “it is right that the government does all it can to reduce the risk of new strains of COVID-19 being imported into the U.K.” He said the decision was aimed at protecting the U.K. against new variants of COVID-19 “at a critical time for the vaccine program” in the U.K. and emphasized that Pakistan’s genomic surveillance remained limited, making it harder to detect variants of concern.

“U.K. data shows that a relatively high number of travelers were arriving in the U.K. 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,” he said, adding that Pakistan’s inclusive in the red list was intended to “protect public health.”

He also clarified that authorities could only consider removing Pakistan from the red list if they were “satisfied that the risk of variants of concern being imported into the U.K. has been significantly reduced.”

The Pakistan High Commission in the U.K. said it was disappointed at the decision. “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 and consistency of criteria being employed!” it said in a posting on Twitter.

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