Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Pakistan optimistic about removal from UK’s Red List as review nears

According to trusted sources, chances of Pakistan coming out of the Red List are “fifty, fifty”

Heathrow Airport in London. File photo
Heathrow Airport in London. File photo

  • Pakistan officials ask UK to move country to amber list.
  • Pakistan has facilitated hundreds of British visas for Afghan evacuation process. 
  • UK health authorities are being provided data on a regular basis.
  • The final decision on Red List will be made either on Wednesday or Thursday.

LONDON: The British government is set to announce its new travel review of dozens of countries, which would include the key decision whether to move Pakistani to the amber list, out of the travel ban Red List, or continue with the same categorisation. 

Trusted Pakistani sources familiar with Pakistan’s lobbying with the British government have told Geo News that the chances of Pakistan coming out of the Red List are “fifty, fifty”.

However, Pakistan has asked the UK govt, both on and off the record, to remove Pakistan from the Red List as Islamabad has met the requirements already.

Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke to UK PM Boris Johnson and raised the issue of the Red List, which has caused problems for thousands of Pakistanis. Behind the scenes, several other players and factors are involved in getting Pakistan off the Red List.

Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, UK officials have made a beeline to get visas for Pakistan and it's understood that Pakistan has issued over 300 visas only in the last 10 days, and hundreds more are eager to obtain visas.

A high ranking British official visited Pakistan last week and a top official is set to land in Islamabad this week to meet Pakistani officials about the Afghanistan situation.

Pakistan has already raised the issue, during the facilitation of evacuation efforts, that Pakistan is under pressure from its own communities who want the country removed from the Red List.

Pakistan has conveyed to the UK that as compared to the data that featured in the UK’s decision making last time, cases have fallen in all areas that are required; positivity and fatality rates have gone down and genome sequencing, which fell short of the requirement last time, has improved massively.

It’s understood that Pakistan authorities have lobbied the UK government hard in the last four weeks after Britain’s decision to remove India from the Red List, while keeping Pakistan on the ban list, caused an uproar. 

The issue came to light after The News reported exclusively - based on its interaction with UK government officials and MPs who had spoken to ministers Asad Umar and Faisal Sultan – that the Pakistan authorities had failed to send data for several weeks to the UK’s Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC).

The information was shared with this reporter by trusted sources within Pakistan and the UK government, as well as four British Pakistanis MPs who attended the virtual meeting where this information was passed to the Pakistani ministers.

COVID-19 data sharing

The UK source told this reporter on Monday that Pakistan didn’t share COVID-19 data for the month of July and key information in other areas was missing too, due to communication failure, but since then the Pakistani govternment has worked towards ensuring that the data is sent to the UK on a regular basis.

Not only have the Pakistani authorities been sending the data directly but Yasmin Qureshi MP, who is chair of All Pakistan Parliamentary Group on Pakistan, has also been personally sending the data to the UK’s relevant authorities and maintaining communication and facilitating exchanges.

UK sources have said that they have been receiving data from Pakistan on a regular basis in the last few weeks but the decision whether to keep Pakistan on the Red List or not will be made by the scientists at the Department of Health.

Another source, who has seen the data, told this reporter that coronavirus “statistics are lower” in Pakistan but the UK health authorities here have to decide whether these statistics are “enough to meet and pass the test”.

The final decision will be made either on Wednesday or Thursday.

A Pakistani source said nothing can be predicted and the UK govt has not given any indication but both sides discussed the rise in positivity cases in Sindh and some other parts.

‘Borderline candidates’

A leading travel website here reported that Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey are now “borderline candidates” for removal from the Red List.

The website stated that infection rates have started coming down rapidly and on the face of it, there is a decent chance that Pakistan could be moved to the amber category.

Pakistan’s top diplomat in the UK, High Commissioner Moazzam Ahmad Khan, had criticised the British government’s decision to keep the country on the Red List at the time, saying it was the “wrong approach to assess Pakistan by ignoring science and data.”

The high commissioner had told Pakistani media: "I am optimistic that Pakistan will come out of the red list on 25 August.”