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Punjab to Block SIM Cards of Citizens Refusing COVID-19 Vaccinations

by Newsweek Pakistan

File photo. Tauseef Mustafa—AFP

Decision stands in contrast to claims of federal government that no one will be forced to vaccinate against their will

The Punjab government, during a meeting led by Health Minister Dr. Yasmin Rashid, on Thursday decided to block the mobile SIM cards of any individuals who refuse to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, in a break from claims by the National Health Services Ministry that no one will be ‘forcibly’ administered the inoculations.

“Final decision has been taken to block the mobile SIM cards of people not getting vaccinated,” said Punjab Specialized Healthcare Department spokesman Syed Hammad Raza in a marked contrast from claims by the federal government that no one would be “forced” to vaccinate against their will. “We want to encourage vaccination and ensure that there is no risk at places of public gatherings and get together. There will be no forced vaccination by any means but we will have few restrictions to protect public health at large,” a spokesman for the National Health Services Ministry told daily Dawn.

The statement raises questions about steps taken by both the federal and provincial governments in the past week, including the Sindh government announcing intent to withhold salaries of government employees who don’t get vaccinated, and Islamabad’s Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences blocking the payment of COVID-19 Risk Allowance for employees without vaccination cards. The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) has also announced that coronavirus vaccines will be mandatory for all public and private-sector employees.

The NCOC had earlier claimed that incentives would be offered to boost vaccination numbers but the government has yet to announce anything that doesn’t come across as a penalty.

The Punjab government, meanwhile, also decided to allow walk-in vaccinations for all citizens over-18 from June 12 (Saturday), in line with the NCOC’s aim to inoculate 70 million people by year’s end. The meeting’s participants, which included senior civil and military officials, decided the provincial government would establish mobile vaccination camps outside shrines, and would prioritize people suffering from cancer and AIDS/HIV.

A statement issued after the meeting also noted that fully vaccinated citizens would be able to enter cinemas and restaurants, and be allowed to attend wedding receptions. It said businesses would be allowed to resume normal operations in any district that achieved vaccinations of at least 20 percent of its population.  “We have seen considerable decrease in number of cases. The government is utilizing all our resources for control of COVID-19 under the leadership of Chief Minister Usman Buzdar,” Rashid was quoted as saying. She also credited the decline in confirmed infections to the provincial administration, noting 677 vaccination centers were operating in the province.

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