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Saturday Jun 27 2020
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Labour MP condemns 'misleading' headline in UK paper attributing half of imported COVID-19 cases to Pakistan

LONDON: British newspaper The Telegraph has claimed "half" of the country's total imported coronavirus cases are from Pakistan, after using only 30 cases since June 4 as the basis for the claim.

The front-page exlusive by The Telegraph titled "Half of UK’s imported Covid-19 infections are from Pakistan" has based the story on data gathered from Public Health England (PHE).

"Data from Public Health England (PHE) shows 30 cases of coronavirus in people who have travelled from Pakistan since June 4, which is understood to represent half of the incidents of imported infection," read the report.

More than 65,000 people have travelled from Pakistan to Britain on 190 flights since March 1.

Labour MP Naz Shah, who serves as the Member of Parliament from Bradford West, immediately condemned the "sensational" and "misleading" headline.

"Last week I was told to go back to Pakistan, today we have articles like this. Any wonder why we still have P*** bashing. Only 30 cases came from Pakistan since 4th June.”

The MP argued that the headline and story had racist undertones, unfairly shifting the blame of UK's cases on Pakistan.

The same data was picked up by other news outlets, The Sun and The Daily Mail to argue that 50% of imported cases came from Pakistan.

Dr Khurram Mushtaq Gardezi, a cardiologist based at Imperial College Healthcare Trust London, and a researcher from University of Oxford, strongly refuted these baseless claims.

Dr Gardezi said that the UK has the second-highest mortality from COVID-19 in the world, only behind the USA. He said: “Taking this into account, most of the world's countries, including European countries, have therefore put travel restrictions for British travellers instead. Such baseless claims are likely to create more problems for British travellers.”

Dr Gardezi also criticised "right-wing lobbyists" trying to take advantage of the global pandemic and using it to promote their hidden racist and Islamophobic agenda.

Replying to a request for comment by, Charles Hymas who is the author of this story and also the Home Affairs editor of The Telegraph, said that the publication did not have any further evidence or data to back their claims.

Hymas said: "It is based on our understanding of PHE (Public Health England) data. The only information they are providing publicly is that figure."

It is important to note that while the British media has been criticising repatriation flights from Pakistan, it was the British government and the British High Commission in Islamabad which arranged repatriation flights from Pakistan. Qatar Airways was chosen for these flights, with the Pakistani government facilitating the British government in regard to the permissions for these flights.

It is also pertinent to mention that by May 7, the day of the last repatriation flight, Pakistan only had 24,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 585 deaths while the UK had 206,000 cases, 10 times more than Pakistan, and 30,000 deaths, 50 times more than Pakistan.

The UK did not screen or quarantine the passengers arriving from various countries until June.

Commenting on the information provided to The Telegraph, a spokesman for Public Health England told it had shared the background information with The Telegraph.

The spokesman said: “Since 4th June, there have been a small number of cases (approx. 30) detected in the UK with recent travel history from Pakistan. This is not unique to the UK and other countries have also recently reported the detection of cases with recent travel to Pakistan. Upon detection of any imported cases, the PHE international contact tracing team follows up any close contacts including on flights and in the UK."

“Where there may be contacts in the originating country, information is passed on to the respective country under the International Health Regulations (2005) in order to facilitate follow up of contacts in that country," he said.

The spokesman said that travel-related COVID-19 cases are not unexpected as response measures are relaxed globally and international travel resumes.

“With regard to the cases from Pakistan, PHE shared information with Pakistan through the National Focal Point and with the FCO and the British High Commissioner in Pakistan to inform wider discussions with the Government of Pakistan," he said.