Pakistan Blocks Cell Service, Withholds Pay of Vaccine Decliners

The government of Pakistan’s Punjab province announced this month it will cut off the cellphone service of anyone who chooses not to receive a Chinese coronavirus vaccination.

In Sindh province, the government has vowed to “withhold the salaries of unvaccinated government employees starting next month,” the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

“The eastern province of Punjab, whose population exceeds 100 million, said this month it would block the cellphone connections of the unvaccinated,” according to the Journal. “Although Pakistan is a poor country, with a per capita income of just $1,600, cellphone ownership is widespread. After the announcement, a rush of people came forward for the shot, said Punjab’s health minister, Yasmin Rashid.”

“Sindh has said that it will withhold the salaries of unvaccinated government employees starting next month,” the Journal reported on June 22. “It hasn’t said whether lost wages would be retroactively restored once an employee is vaccinated. The province, home to Pakistan’s biggest city, Karachi, has also said it won’t issue driving licenses to the unvaccinated.”

Pakistani news outlets first reported on Punjab’s plans to block cell phone access for the unvaccinated after Punjab’s health ministry announced the action on June 10.

“Pakistan’s largest province of Punjab, home to at least 110 million people, announced on June 10 those who chose not to get [Chinese coronavirus] jabs would have their SIM cards blocked,” Arab News Pakistan, the online Pakistan edition of the Saudi-owned Arab News, reported on June 16.

“A SIM card, which stands for Subscriber Identity Module, is needed for a mobile phone to connect to a carrier network to make calls, send texts and more,” the newspaper noted.

“We plan to go for this option [blocking of mobile phone SIMS] as a last resort,” Punjab Health Minister Yasmin Rashid told Arab News Pakistan on June 16.

“It would be done district-wise,” Rashid added. “If the provincial districts fail to meet the target set by the health ministry till June 30th, we will take strict action against local administrations and the blocking of SIMS would come at a later stage.”

Pakistan’s Geo News revealed on June 15 that the government of Pakistan’s Sindh province, “following the footsteps of Punjab — has also decided to block the mobile SIM cards of unvaccinated individuals.”

“Talking to the media after the inauguration of the vaccination centre at Karachi’s Rafiqi Shaheed Hospital, Sindh Minister for Information Syed Nasir Hussain Shah said that mobile phone SIMs of those who do not get vaccinated will be blocked soon [sic],” Geo News reported.

Punjab Health Department Spokesman Sajjad Hafeez told Arab News Pakistan on June 16 that the provincial government had the ability to block citizens’ SIM cards because “the Punjab government’s Immunization Service was linked to the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), Pakistan’s ID database.”

“When a person gets the first jab of the [Chinese coronavirus] vaccine, his or her name is put in a yellow category [on the Pakistan Immunization Service online database],” Hafeez said, adding that “after a person received a second jab, their national ID card number was blocked in the system so that no one else could get vaccinated against that identity card.”

“On the completion of two doses, a person’s name is moved onto a green category and he or she is issued a certificate,” Hafeez explained.

The Punjab Health Department “directed NADRA to provide a list of vaccinated and non-vaccinated people identified by the system by June 30, saying those who were not fully vaccinated [against the Chinese coronavirus] by then would get two warnings through mobile text messages, with punitive action taken after two weeks of remaining unvaccinated,” Hafeez told Arab News Pakistan.

The local administration of Peshawar — the capital and largest city of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province — recently said that people unvaccinated against the Chinese coronavirus will be barred from accessing “a long list of public services, including registering a property purchase, obtaining a firearms license and collecting pension benefits,” the Journal reported on June 22.

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