Pakistan suspends 70 paramilitary troops for refusing vaccine
The group were suspended in southern Balochistan province on Wednesday "after repeated written warnings and verbal requests" to get the jabs, said Habib Ahmed Bangalzai, a senior local official.
"They will also not get their salaries," Bangalzai added.
The troops from the Balochistan Levies, a paramilitary force that assists police with law enforcement, have direct contact with the public, the official said.
Wali Breach, another senior government official, confirmed the suspensions.
The move comes after the national government advised all its employees to get vaccinated.
Balochistan authorities were on Thursday due to implement a ban on unvaccinated people entering government offices, public parks, shopping malls and public transport.
Pakistan's nationwide vaccination rollout has been ramped up in recent weeks with more than 350,000 doses administered on most days.
Almost 16 million shots have been given to date, with China supplying most of the jabs.
But concerns about the side effects, coupled with misinformation that the vaccines cause infertility or death within two years, have sparked some hesitancy.
However, in the capital Islamabad, Pakistanis who want to work abroad have this week protested about a shortage of Western-made vaccines AstraZeneca and Pfizer, an entry requirement for most Gulf countries.
Earlier this month, 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 earlier this month.
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.
Meanwhile, new incentives to encourage people to get the Covid jab - including granting the vaccinated access to cinemas and celebration halls - have been introduced.