Pakistan is expected to spend more than a billion dollars in the next fiscal year to import COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate around 100 million people. The trouble is, anti-vaccine groups have sprung up around the country and have deterred some from taking the vaccine. In response, one local government in Pakistan has a new weapon in its war chest against vaccine hesitancy: disable the SIM cards of mobile phones of people who decline to get jabbed, according to RT News.
Punjab Health Minister Yasmin Rashid decided on Thursday during a meeting with the Punjab provincial government and military officials that anyone who denied the COVID-19 jab will have their SIM cards disabled at "a certain time."
"We are doing all we can to compel people to get vaccinated… The government cannot allow individuals, who do not want to get vaccinated, to risk lives of those who are already vaccinated," Rashid said. She added that a timeline from when a person denies the jab to SIM card denial would be hashed out once the new measure received formal approval from the National Command and Operation Center, which supervises Pakistan's national response to COVID-19.
After the meeting, Punjab's Primary and Secondary Health Department tweeted: "Mobile SIMS of people not getting vaccinated may be blocked, it was decided in Cabinet meeting under the chair of Minister for Health Dr. Yasmin Rashid at Civil Secretariat. The government will open walk-in vaccination of over 18 years of age group."
There was no word on when the SIM card blocking would begin.
However, provincial officials announced the plan was moving ahead:
"Final decision has been taken to block the mobile SIM cards of people not getting vaccinated," department spokesman Syed Hammad Raza told Pakistan's Dawn newspaper.
Critics said Punjab's new measure is a dangerous move by the government.
"This is a regressive step as it affects the right to freedom of speech of citizens. What is required is to raise awareness about vaccinations, and not coercion," Prasanth Sugathan, legal director at India's Software Freedom Law Centre, told The National.
"During the pandemic, mobile phones are important for people to connect with others and to receive information," Sugathan said.
Besides SIM card bans, those who deny being vaccinated might also be restricted from restaurants, malls, and parks.
This is absolutely absurd, and imagine if a liberal-run metro area in the US resorted to this no jab, no phone measure - people would lose their minds and likely rebel.