LONDON: Recent reports by a section of British media linking Pakistan and British-Pakistanis to the spread of imported COVID-19 cases in the UK have put the lives of over 1.5 million people in danger.
Various media outlets — including The Telegraph, The Sun, and the Daily Mail — have accused British-Pakistanis of being behind "half" of the imported COVID-19 cases in the UK, raising fears of a rise in the attacks fueled by racism and Islamophobia.
The Pakistani community in the UK have called on the Public Health England (PHE) and Prime Minister Boris Johnson-led government to come clean over the "malicious" allegations in the newspapers that are considered closely linked with the leadership.
The Pakistani diaspora in the UK have termed such reports as totally false, saying they had "malicious intent" and a clear bias against their home country. No reliable comprehensive data was presented to support the claim, which was published as an "exclusive" in Daily Telegraph and later republished by other media outlets.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a global one, affecting the entire world and singling out Pakistan would not help anyone, the community leaders said. The "lopsided media reports" made a sweeping claim on the basis of 30 coronavirus-positive cases arriving in the UK from Pakistan at a particular time, they said.
"This is not the entire data of imported cases to the UK from around the world from the start of the viral disease until now."
"These media outlets grossly misused the minuscule data set from the Department of Health and Social Care's (DHSC) executive agency to malign a single country and put the lives of 1.5 million British-Pakistanis in danger," the community groups lamented.
"To slander a country on the basis of such skewed data is unethical and against journalistic principles," they added.
The PHE, on the other hand, has confirmed that it did not give out data on other countries to the press.
The statistics in the report say 65,000 passengers from Pakistan arrived in the UK on 190 flights, from March 1 till the filing of the report by the British media. It is evident that these reports did not examine or present the relevant data of all the international arrivals in the UK.
It is important to note that according to information available publicly, tens of thousands of flights have operated to and from the UK since March and millions of passengers — including many from various high-risk countries — moved in and out of Britain.
A cursory look at the statistics of all UK airports' operations would show that the number of flights would be well above 100,000. A comparison of the figures pertaining to Pakistan with other countries strongly indicated that targeting one country was not really out of concern for public health and safety but for some nefarious intent.
Liberal Democrat Sal Brinton said The Sun's was "a very misleading headline — please make it clear that this is 30 cases since 4 June".
"Not, as the headline implies, during the whole pandemic,” added Brinton, also the DHSC spokesperson for House of Lords.
It is important to note that these reports come at a time when the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests are raging across Britain, calling for justice and fairness.
Interestingly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had earlier warned against blaming any country for the viral disease, let alone an ethnic community.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s aide on overseas Pakistanis, Sayed Zulfiqar Zulfikar Bukhari regretted the false reports in all three papers, asking: "How did Pakistan start exporting Covid with no cases when UK already had more?
"What kind of data evidence supports it since [March 1] while UK only started passenger screening in June?"
"Pathetic irresponsible reporting by Telegraph/Daily Mail/Sun. Shameless racism and tabloid sensationalism on display,” he added.
Naz Shah MP wrote on Twitter how she was told a week earlier to "go back to Pakistan" and "today we have articles like this".
"Any wonder why we still have P*** bashing. ONLY 30 CASES CAME FROM PAKISTAN SINCE 4TH JUNE!"
Many British-Pakistanis have expressed serious concerns about their safety and welfare, stating that the "thoughtless, propagandist reports" have put their lives in danger and urged the UK government to come clean.
They also said it was the responsibility of the UK government to take action against such racist media reports.
The community leaders said the COVID-19 pandemic could best be fought with communal harmony and understanding, not by inciting hatred against a community. They reminded the media outlets that it was the British-Pakistani doctors who were among the first to die in the UK's fight against COVID-19.
These are extraordinary times and responsible journalism was the need of the hour, they added, noting that it was unfortunate that a section of press had chosen a divisive approach.