KARACHI, Pakistan

Responding to the UK’s new ban on travelers from Pakistan and three other countries over virus concerns, a Pakistani minister on Saturday questioned whether the decision is “based on science or foreign policy.”

Asad Umar, the country’s planning minister who is also leading its pandemic response, said the move has raised some “legitimate” concerns.

The UK said on Friday it will bar travelers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kenya, and the Philippines starting April 9, bringing the number of countries on its “red list” to 39.

“Every country has a right to take decisions to safeguard the health of their citizens. However, the recent decision by UK government to add some countries including Pakistan on the red list raises a legitimate question whether choice of countries is based on science or foreign policy,” Umar said on Twitter.

He shared a letter from Naz Shah, a Pakistani-origin British lawmaker, to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, questioning the rationale of extending the travel ban to countries that have lower rates of infection than others not on the “red list.”

In the letter dated March 30, Shah cited latest figures showing that France, Germany, and India have substantially higher numbers of infections per 100,000 people.

“This begs the question why hasn’t the government extended the red list to France, Germany, and India?” the outspoken lawmaker asked.

“Contrary to what the government is saying, it is clearly not making decisions fed by science/data. Further, it is knowingly and consciously discriminating against Pakistan and the Pakistani diaspora community.”

Meanwhile, state-run Pakistan International Airlines has announced it will operate five special flights on April 6 and April 7 to bring back Pakistanis from the UK.

Last month, Islamabad lifted a ban on travelers from the UK, allowing people coming from the country to enter Pakistan by presenting a negative COVID-19 result from 72 hours before travel.

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