LONDON: The British government has claimed that the Pakistan authorities didn’t share with them the COVID-19 data on vaccination and testing and that likely explains why Pakistan remains on the travel ban Red List – while India and several other countries have been moved out of the ban list into the Amber category.
Officials of the Pakistani and the UK governments have argued over Pakistan’s retention in the travel ban Red List as it emerged that Pakistan government’s National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) didn’t provide data of vaccination and testing to the UK authorities, according to multiple sources in the UK and Pakistan.
The Pakistani government officials have argued that the UK authorities didn’t ask them for any data; that the Pakistan government has been sharing data with the British High Commission in Islamabad and that the data was available on the NCOC’s Twitter and the UK government could have easily accessed it before making a decision on the latest removals and retention of the travel list.
Several British Pakistani MPs wrote protest letters after it was revealed that Pakistan would stay on the Red List for foreseeable future while India was taken off the list. One British Pakistani spoke to a senior UK government minister who told the MP that Pakistan had failed to provide data to the UK government, that there was no lobbying effort from the Pakistani government and that was the reason why Pakistan continued to be on the Red List. Both the MP and the senior government minister requested their names not be revealed.
On Friday, NCOC head Asad Umar, and SAPM National Health Services Dr Faisal Sultan held a virtual meeting with Pakistani origin Labour MPs Khalid Mahmood, Muhammad Yasin, Tahir Ali, Afzal Khan, Lord Wajid Khan, Imran Hussain, Yasim Qureshi, Pakistan High Commissioner Moazzam Ali Khan, Naz Shah and Dr Rosena Khan.
Five MPs, who spoke to Geo and The News, confirmed that during the meeting the issue was discussed whether the Islamabad had provided data to London or not – after two MPs asked the same question to Pakistani ministers. The MPs told Pakistan officials what the UK government had told them about the non-provision of data.
According to the MPs, Asad Umar told them that the data was publicly available on the NCOC forums including Twitter and Youtube and the UK authorities could have accessed it. Faisal Sultan said during the meeting that he had not spoken to British High Commissioner Christian Turner in a “4-5 weeks”, according to one MP.
The MPs said they asked Pakistani ministers and Pakistan High Commission diplomats what efforts had they made to engage with the UK government through the Foreign Office and the High Commission to get Pakistan off the list. The MPs said Pakistani officials had no response.
The Pakistan High Commission said on Friday that the Pakistani envoy met PM Boris Johnson at Sandhurt academy and raised the issue of Red List.
The MPs said during their meeting with Asad Umar and Faisal Sultan it was discussed that the UK government believed that Pakistan was performing lower in areas over positivity rate, percentage of genomic testing, and types of viruses, vaccination rates and testing.
In comparison, other countries fared well and came off the Red List. One MP told the Pakistani officials that Pakistan had conducted under 300 genomics tests in the whole year while some countries were conducting 2,500 genomics tests a month.
At the end of the meeting, Asad Umar tweeted: “Had a session with some UK MP's regarding continuation of Pakistan on the red list. Shared data regarding Covid disease surveillance and explained Pak strategy for Covid response. Will engage with UK govt to try and ensure that red list decisions are based on science not politics.”
One MP said that at the end of the meeting, Asad Umar shared with them the information sheets that were required. “It’s clear looking at these sheets that Pakistan has up to date data but I feel Pakistan authorities should have shared the same with the UK government and run effective lobbying. The UK MPs have been raising their voice because they are under pressure from their constituents but it’s the government's responsibility to have engaged with the UK govt,” said the MP.
The Department for Transport (DFT), which maintains the traffic light system and Red-Listing, told this correspondent that Pakistan remains on the Red List after taking into account the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) risk assessments, alongside wider public health factors.
The spokesman said: “60 destinations are on the UK government’s red list. The red list is kept under regular review.” The Department for Transport explained that the traffic light system categorises countries/ territories based on risk to protect public health in the UK and the vaccine rollout from variants of COVID-19. “Key factors in the JBC risk assessment of each country/ territory include: genomic surveillance capability, COVID-19 transmission risk and variant of concern transmission risk.”