Pakistan provinces announce plans to cut off mobile phone service for unvaccinated
Local authorities in two Pakistani provinces have announced plans to ban mobile phone services for those who refuse Covid-19 vaccines amid a worryingly slow uptake for the jab in the hard-hit country.
Officials in the eastern Punjab and southern Sindh provinces have threatened to roll out the measure, which would effectively cut off internet access for thousands of unvaccinated people.
Sindh authorities have also ordered its finance ministry to cut off employees' salaries from July unless they agree to take jabs.
"The government is trying its best to facilitate people in getting the vaccine," Sindh Information Minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah said in a statement reported by The New York Times.
Details of the plan, such as how authorities will enforce the measure or when it will take effect, are yet to be made public. Mobile service providers, whose businesses would be severely disrupted if the plan were to go ahead, have not been directly informed, CBS News reported on Tuesday.
Pakistan has earmarked $1.1 billion to buy vaccines. Despite setting goals to inoculate between 45 to 65 million people by the end of 2021, only 3 million people have been fully vaccinated since the jabs' drive began early February - less than two percent of the population.
Vaccine disinformation, a culprit in tainting Pakistan's status as one of only two countries in the world where polio is endemic, has fuelled fears that have slowed uptake.
Like the rest of the world, social media and messaging services are the main vehicles for Covid-19 vaccine conspiracy theories.
"I have heard that people, after getting the coronavirus jab, will die within the two years," Ehsan Ahmed, a truck driver in Karachi, told NYT.
Pakistan's government has been criticised for being ineffective in launching campaigns to dispel such myths. It has recently ramped up education efforts with videos explaining the vaccination and on Monday, most major newspapers carried ads urging people to get vaccinated.
Meanwhile, new incentives to encourage people to get the Covid jab - including granting the vaccinated access to cinemas and celebration halls - have been introduced.