Leaked letter shows why British govt kept Pakistan on red list

09:23 PM | 29 Aug, 2021
Leaked letter shows why British govt kept Pakistan on red list

LONDON — The British government decided to keep Pakistan on the travel ban red list because it believed the true number of Covid-19 cases was likely to be much higher than the number of cases reported across Pakistan.

According to a leaked letter, Britain’s Health Minister Lord James Nicholas Bethell and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation from the Department of Health and Social Care explained in detail that Pakistan’s testing and sequencing rates were relatively low and lower testing and sequencing mean it is not possible to know the full genomic makeup of their current wave. Therefore, they said the true number of cases is likely to be much higher than reported.

“The national testing rate varies considerably across regions. For example, in Punjab — Pakistan’s most densely populated region — with the highest number of active cases, testing is below Pakistan’s average rate and is the second-lowest in the country,” Lord Bethell wrote to Yasmin Qureshi MP, the Chair of All Parties Parliamentary Group on Pakistan.

Lord Bethell said the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) produces public health risk assessments to inform ministerial decisions on red, amber and green list countries and territories, and the associated border measures.

“Following the latest assessment, the JBC continues to rate inbound travel from Pakistan as high-risk. The limited sequencing data available from Pakistan would suggest that they are currently experiencing a Delta wave, however, given the limitations in the available data, we could not be reassured that the outbreaks are due to known variants such as Delta, or if a novel cluster(s) of new or high-risk variants are developing and/or driving the epidemiology in Pakistan,” he wrote.

Lord Bethell said there was "no reason other than Pakistan’s drive against the pandemic that Pakistan is on the red list."

He said: “The UK Government is engaging constructively with the Government of Pakistan to explore ways that we can improve data availability and confidence and consequently our understanding of the current epidemiology within Pakistan. I met with Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK earlier this week to discuss these issues and we have established an expert working group to enable further technical engagement between senior public health officials and Pakistan’s senior health advisers."

"This will enable us to better understand the strategies employed by Pakistan, their understanding of the pandemic and establish stable and long-term access to the outcomes of Pakistan’s in-country genomic surveillance and sequencing."

“We appreciate the efforts the Government of Pakistan is making throughout the pandemic and will continue to work closely together. We are supporting their response to the pandemic, including through COVAX and through the development of Pakistan’s genomic sequencing capability. Through the New Variant Assessment Platform (NVAP) programme Pakistan will be able to draw on UK expertise and support to detect, analyse, and respond quickly to new, and potentially more dangerous, variants of COVID-19.”