UK’s red list

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Many British Pakistanis ping to spend Ramazan and Eid in the company of loved ones are in for a big surprise. As Pakistan struggles to contain the fast-intensifying third wave of the novel coronavirus, it has landed on the UK’s red list of countries on advice from public health experts. With the new travel restrictions, any hopes of holidays on the golden beaches were dashed once again.
More worrying prospects, however, concern the travel industry, which is bracing for losses to the tune of billions of dollars for the second year in a row. Even before the much-dreaded travel ban, rising concerns about the new variant hung heavy as flights were constantly being cancelled, trade shows were being called off and businesses were pruning allowances for employee travel. The pandemic saw the travel sector take a deep plunge for the dumps. Last year’s estimate by Global Business Travel Association had predicted a whopping $560 billion loss to the industry in a year if the spending on travel dropped by more than 37 per cent. Given the phenomenal loss of business, regional airports at risk for folding down and over 43 failed commercial airlines, the ground reality is much, more dire than feared. Had it not been for strong lifelines from governments all over the world, there would have been a catastrophic number of bankruptcies. A spectacular example of this extensive support would be the vouchers worth $10 billion given to US carriers due to the pandemic. While things have started to pick back up, the new round of restrictions would further accelerate the losses going sky-high. A far greater number of airlines might find themselves on the butcher’s board once the ongoing saga turns an even melancholic note!
Writing closer to home, our national carrier had already been a wretched pictured painted by the fiscal numbers. Its frequent follies aside, it can, under no circumstances, afford to remain grounded. Last year’s withdrawal of permit to operate from British airports had seen a jump in ticket prices of nearly 300 per cent. Such crippling was the hostage effect of this ban on PIA’s entire functioning that there were talks of its demise. Now that our flag-carriers are back in the British skies, the recent inclusion in the ban list would only add to its miseries. The threat to public health cannot be ignored given the positivity ratio in as many as 26 Pakistani cities has crossed eight per cent. Every government is trying its best to secure its residents from the clutches of the deadly strain to the best of their abilities. Still, the British government could find another way out of its pickle. Increased testing, mandatory quarantining and on-arrival screening were only some of the measures that could have been applied in the stead of the red list. Speculations regarding the political motives behind the administrative ban are already on the rise. Many feel that Pakistan’s reported cases are far lower than several countries not on the hotel quarantine list. The fact that India, France, Germany and Italy are not in the red zone despite having a greater number of cases adds credence to these claims. Islamabad should actively pursue all available channels to ensure its passengers are not slashed, unnecessarily. It goes without saying that an extensive vaccination drive and stringent compliance of precautions hold the key to handle the recent jump in cases. But holding the diplomatic fort is just as crucial. After all, we do not wish to see closeted from the rest of the world in the name of caution!