As soon as Christian Turner, the United Kingdom's High Commissioner to Pakistan, announced the British government's decision to add Pakistan to its so-called red list thereby banning incoming travel to England from next week, citing coronavirus "variants of concern", a debate was stirred on Twitter.
Turner, on the behalf of his government, had disclosed on Friday that a ban on visitors from Kenya, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Pakistan would enter force at 0300 GMT on April 9. As a result of this ban, the UK and Irish nationals and those with UK residence rights traveling from those countries will have to quarantine in hotels for 10 days.
The driving factor behind these new restrictions is allegedly new data showing increased risks of importing coronavirus "variants of concern". However, this ban seems arbitrary and driven by a direct impact of populist nationalism on public health where the immigrant 'others' from developing countries are to bear the burnt.
Maybe the Federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar caught on to this ploy of pandemic politics and therefore took to Twitter to share a letter written by Naz Shah, a Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom, to Dominic Raab, the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Affairs.
In this aforementioned letter, Shah questioned, and rightly so, if the decision to include Pakistan on the red list was taken on the basis of scientific evidence or was an autocratic one. Shah asked why the ban was not extended to France, Germany, and India "despite having a higher number of infections per 100,000" as compared to Pakistan.
In her letter, the UK MP for Bradford West also shed light on how new variants or the South African variant is not a concern in Pakistan but has caused a ruckus in European countries.
The federal minister, while sharing a copy of the letter, raised concerns about how the move raises suspicions about whether the decision was taken out of concern for public health. In his tweet, Umar said:
"Every country has a right to make decisions to safeguard the health of their citizens. However, the recent decision by the UK govt to add some countries including Pakistan to the red list raises a legitimate question of whether the choice of countries is based on science or foreign policy."
Umar's argument is not based on suspicion or a self-imposed victim narrative but on the patterns that have emerged during this one year of the global pandemic -- patterns that have further widened the already existing gaps between the Global North and South in a way that global positionality has turned out to be detrimental to this public health crisis.
For instance, the USA did not face any remarkable or lasting restrictions from any of the developed countries let alone developing countries despite the fact that it alone is responsible for over a quarter of each of COVID‐19 infections and deaths globally, although the US population represents only 4.25% of the global population.
When the pandemic began, how it impacted countries worldwide, and how different countries responded to it, should have opened new pathways for the developing countries to be viewed with a new and unbiased lens -- given that most developing countries did respond better to the containment of virus as compared to many developed countries.
However, our so-called political alliances and geopolitical fissures again got the best of us and Global South was once again reduced to be a scapegoat amid the rising nationalistic sentiments and trends in the public health policy. In this madness of states needing to fend for themselves but also to not offend the global powers, we let sanity and caution slide. And developing nations bear the most losses. This new ban by the UK government is no exception.
These health policies by countries ranked higher in the global order also tell us a lot about how developing countries are viewed from their powerful yet snobbish perspective: disorganized, incapable, and maybe disoriented in their dealing with public health crisis. A good example to support this argument would be to understand how badly Niall McCarthy's chart on 'best and worst prepared countries for an epidemic' aged.
David Miliband, the head of the International Rescue Committee, was right when he said, “the pandemic is a powerful reminder of two things: the shared challenges of our global village, and the deep inequalities we must grapple with to fight them."
Unfortunately, the rampant inequalities in today's world order are the main ingredient for the politics of public health amid pandemic. The new ban by the UK government should support the argument, the most ironic thing about which is that Pakistan is currently struggling with the UK variant of the coronavirus.