In a comprehensive letter sent by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan, the Pakistan government replied to the UK government’s grounds for maintaining the former on its travel red list.
Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari posted the letter on Twitter on Wednesday, claiming that the table in Dr Sultan’s letter “exposes” the UK government’s claims that their decision was based on science and facts.
UK's Conservative govt with a strong Indophiles' presence playing discriminatory politics against Pakistan on Covid. The UK statement to which Dr Faisal has responded exposing its claims! pic.twitter.com/uxgul8PaCM
— Shireen Mazari (@ShireenMazari1) August 10, 2021
“UK’s Conservative govt with a strong Indophiles’ presence playing discriminatory politics against Pakistan on Covid. The UK statement to which Dr Faisal has responded exposing its claims!” wrote Mazari.
What does Pakistan’s letter to the UK say?
Dr. Sultan’s lengthy letter begins by stating that the United Kingdom’s choice to keep Pakistan on its red list while moving other regional nations to the amber list has been met with “dismay” in Pakistan.
He emphasised that Pakistan had “no interest” in permitting its citizens to go overseas if they represent a health danger to other societies. He said that this is a worldwide goal that everyone shares.
The SAPM on health emphasised the United Kingdom’s explanation for why Pakistan remains on the red list, and addressed it with data on Pakistan’s COVID-19 response, testing rates, genomic surveillance, and all other efforts made by the Pakistan government to combat the pandemic and stabilise the virus’s spread.
The UK, in a statement to the Pakistan government sent on August 6, had said that “a combination of deteriorating epidemiological situation, combined with low testing rates and limited genomic surveillance presents a high risk that an outbreak of a new variant, or existing variant of concern will not be identified”.
Issue of deteriorating epidemiological situation
Dr Sultan presented a table comparing key data from Pakistan and several other nations in the area that are presently on the amber list to highlight what he called “clear differences” in the “deteriorating epidemiological situation.” “Numbers alone, without context, can be deceptive,” he warned when examining counties’ track records in dealing with the pandemic.
According to the statistics in the chart, although Pakistan’s numbers have improved in recent weeks, they were still extremely low when compared to the figures from other nations on the amber list when Pakistan was added to the red list.
The table that Dr Sultan shared can be seen in the photo below.
Pakistan responds to UK statement on why it decided to retain country on red list
Issue of testing rates
The SAPM on health then moved on to the issue of testing rates. He explained how the PCR tests in Pakistan were being conducted and highlighted that testing is done through “agreed upon national algorithms”. He explained how it makes for “accurate and timely data inputs”.
“We fee that the number of tests being done are a large enough sample size to be a sensitive and accurate barometer of the epidemic and the number, especially when seen with the percentage positivity rate, has accurately reflected the rise and fall of all the waves seen so far,” Dr Sultan wrote.
He also reiterated that all data is uploaded daily by the National Command and Operation Centre, the nerve centre of the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, on its website (covid.gov.pk).
Issue of genomic surveillance
On the issue of genomic surveillance, the Pakistan government official agreed that the country does have limitations in whole demons sequencing compared to the UK. But he went on to provide the data that Pakistan does have available, highlighting that so far 854 samples have been sequenced during July and August 2021 and the details are shared with the WHO regularly.
He said additional steps are in place to scale up detection of variants and Pakistan welcomes the UK’s offer of partnership through the New Variant Assessment Platform.
He, however, said that to use genomic sequencing as a resin to deny travel from Pakistan “appears to introduce an unnecessary larger metric, whereas disease security can be reliable achieved via somewhat more targeted measures, vide infra”.
He also said that it was unclear what level of genomic sequencing surveillance would be deemed “enough” and questioned whether other counties were also being judged according to the same criteria.
Dr Sultan ended his letter with a suggestion to the UK on a three-pronged approach which may include valid proof of having received a WHO-approved vaccine, a PCR test (72 hours prior to departure) and a rapid antigen test at the airport, pre-departure.
“These measures ought to be able to provide the health security we are all collectively seeking,” wrote Dr Sultan.
He said he would be happy to meet or discuss these meausres with health experts in the UK.
According to Mazari, the British government is’shifting goalposts’ to maintain Pakistan on its Red List.
Shireen Mazari, the Federal Minister for Human Rights, had previously slammed the UK government for keeping Pakistan on its red list of countries facing travel restrictions, claiming that the UK government had never asked Pakistan for data on the country’s coronavirus situation in order to reconsider their decision.
The minister was reacting to a report quoting UK government sources as stating that London had maintained Pakistan on its Red List because the country had not given data on vaccination and testing to the UK authorities.
Mazari claimed the UK government is controlled by ‘Indophiles’ in a scathing tweet.
“Ridiculous! UK govt, dominated by Indophiles and despite globally documented India’s continuing disastrous handling of the COVID pandemic, moved India to the Amber List but keeps Pakistan on the red; then under pressure from Opposition MPs, gives feeble excuse that Pakistan didn’t share data,” she tweeted.
Fact is UK govt never asked for data but it is publicly available as NCOC has the most centralised & daily updated data bases anywhere & data shared with UK HC. Earlier UK govt had given another excuse – that more Pak passengers than Indians tested positive! Shifting goalposts!
— Shireen Mazari (@ShireenMazari1) August 9, 2021
She went on to claim that British authorities never requested for the data since the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) has
She chastised the UK government for’shifting goalposts,’ pointing out that it had previously said that Pakistan had been put on the Red List because more Pakistani passengers tested positive for COVID than Indian ones.