Islamabad: Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan has written a letter to British Health Secretary Sajid Javid, comparing Pakistan's pandemic statistics with those of other countries in the region and pointing out 'obvious discrepancies' that highlight the better situation here.
The Pakistan government's response came following an uproar over UK's decision to retain Pakistan on its Covid travel red list while moving India to the amber. The letter was shared by Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari on Twitter, saying that the table in Dr Sultan's letter 'exposes' claims of the UK government that its decision was based on science and data. United Kingdom's Conservative government 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.
In the letter, the Prime Minister's aide suggested that in order to reduce the health risk associated with travel during the pandemic, the UK may shift attention towards 'interventions focused directly on traveller, rather than on other metrics'. He proposed a three-pronged approach – including a 'valid proof of having received a WHO (World Health Organisation) approved Covid-19 vaccine, a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test (72 hours prior to departure) and a rapid antigen test at the airport, pre-departure', as a measure to curb the risk of virus spread through travel instead of the British government's traffic light system.
In a statement issued by the UK Department of Health and Social Care, also shared by Mazari on Twitter – the British authorities maintained that the aforementioned factors present 'a high risk that an outbreak of a new variant, or existing VoC (variants of concern), will not be identified before it is imported to the UK'. The authorities also raised concern over the 'current trajectory of the pandemic in Pakistan', which is currently experiencing a fourth wave of the coronavirus.
Dr Sultan, in his response, maintained that while surveillance data, on which the UK says its decision is based, was 'undeniably important', the country's overall track record of managing the pandemic held more significance. In the letter, Dr Sultan compared Covid-19 statistics of Pakistan with those of India, Iran and Iraq, highlighting that its daily cases per million people, daily deaths per million people and total deaths per million people were the lowest in the region, while daily vaccinations per 100 people was the highest. The prime minister's aide further contended that tests being done in Pakistan constituted 'a large enough sample size to be a sensitive and accurate barometer of the epidemic'. He also mentioned other metrics, the data for which he said accurately presented the pandemic situation in the country.
However, he admitted that Pakistan lagged behind the UK in the area of genome sequencing, adding that the results so far had shown that the Delta variant was the dominant strain in the country.
But, he also opined that using genomic sequencing as a performance measure and citing it as a reason to deny travel from Pakistan seemed unnecessary. 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.