New Delhi: “Blatant discrimination”, “Politics into play”, “Callous behaviour”.
The United Kingdom’s decision to move India from its ‘red’ to ‘amber’ list of Covid travel restrictions while keeping Pakistan on the red list has garnered heavy criticism from Pakistani MPs and ministers.
Pakistanis are fighting for international colour and list once again. Only it’s not the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list this time.
Pakistani Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry Thursday tweeted an online petition on the UK Government and Parliament website calling for the removal of his country from the red list for travel. The petition has received 123,653 signatures till now and has been shared widely on Twitter. UK Parliament considers all petitions that get more than 100,000 signatures for a debate.
“The Government has made it consistently clear it will take decisive action, if necessary, to contain the virus and Pakistan has been added to the “Red List” to protect public health,” read a response by the UK government on the website.
Petition: Remove Pakistan from red list for travel https://t.co/Xo8yzcaU3w
— Ch Fawad Hussain (@fawadchaudhry) August 5, 2021
Slamming the UK cabinet for “showing clear political proclivity towards India”, Pakistani Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari also took to Twitter to compare daily Covid mortality numbers between India and Pakistan from 26 July to 1 August.
How can UK govt rationally place India on Amber list while keeping Pakistan on Red List? No scientific reason for this discrimination. Only politics coming into play again — UK cabinet showing clear political proclivity towards India. Unfortunate indeed. @CTurnerFCDO pic.twitter.com/2P2W3LDDu0
— Shireen Mazari (@ShireenMazari1) August 5, 2021
Several Pakistani-origin members of the British House of Commons also came out strongly against their government’s “ridiculous” move, with one Labour MP claiming that the list is “seeking to penalise Pakistan in favour of potential economic benefit”.
High Commissioner for Pakistan to the United Kingdom Moazzam Ahmad Khan Friday told the media that the issue of not removing Pakistan from the red list has been formally taken up with the British government.
British MPs speak out
Lambasting the UK government on Twitter, Yasmin Qureshi, a Pakistani-origin Labour MP and Shadow Minister for International Development, tweeted, “The Government is seeking to penalise Pakistan in favour of potential economic benefit. This is clear and blatant discrimination towards Pakistan. To add insult to injury, the hotel quarantine cost is set to increase by between £450-£800, to a total of £2.2k”.
“I have constituents unable to return to university, to see family or attend funerals. This has been the case for months. Why has the price been increased? This makes it even harder and penalises those who need to get to Pakistan urgently”, Qureshi added. She also shared the image of the letter which she had written to the department of transport on Thursday.
As promised late last night, here is my letter to Shapps, Johnson, Javid and Raab, which calls out the blatant discrimination against Pakistan
— Yasmin Qureshi MP (@YasminQureshiMP) August 5, 2021
In an article titled “Pakistan’s place on the red list is political, not scientific, and reeks of discrimination”, published by The House Friday, Qureshi accused the UK of having “a clear economic interest in appeasing India’s government”, and called the latest travel restrictions “a political decision taken to soften up the Indian government ahead of trade negotiations and signals a turn away from Pakistan”.
British MP Naz Shah wrote a similar letter to the UK’s Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, asking him to review the decision to keep Pakistan on the Red List. Blaming the government for fuelling the spread of Delta variant by failing to place India on the red list in March, she said the UK government’s decision “seems to be swayed by politics.”
“India’s seven-day infection rate is 20 per 100,000 people and is now on the amber list but Pakistan, whose seven-day infection rate is just 14 per 100,000 people – well below the vast majority of amber list destinations, remains on the red list”, she wrote in her letter Thursday.
UK Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi also shared his appeal to the government, saying government decisions must be rooted in science, not politics.
Government decisions on travel lists must be rooted in science, not politics. pic.twitter.com/5IDB74HDeF
— Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi MP (@TanDhesi) August 5, 2021
Sharing a screenshot of new cases tally on 3 August and seven-day average in both India and Pakistan, Labour MP Sarah Owen said, “Tory Ministers have a lot of explaining to do as to why India is going amber yet Pakistan & other countries remain red”.
How the list is decided
According to a report in BirminghamLive, the UK government refers to four factors when listing countries in the three categories—red, amber, green—of quarantine and travel restrictions: The percentage of a country’s population that has been vaccinated, the rate of infection, the prevalence of variants of concern, and the country’s access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing.
Justifying his administration decision and denying claims of playing politics, Shapps told Sky News that it is the experts from the Joint Biosecurity Centre who “give us their overview of every country and their recommendation about where a country should sit” in the list.
Shapps further explained that in order for countries to move from the red list, the government studies the number of people who had been vaccinated there, the reliability of local Covid data, and the level of prevalence of the virus.
If you are going to a red list country from the UK, you are required to take a Covid test, book a quarantine hotel package for when you come back, including two Covid-19 tests, and complete a passenger locator form before leaving. Those coming from amber list countries can quarantine in their homes but need to do the tests before leaving and after arrival in the UK.