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Millions of Pakistanis may get SIMs blocked if COVID vaccine is refused

The strategy is being employed by health officials in the Punjab province to try and encourage more of the population to get jabbed

Pakistan’s Punjab province has announced that it will block the mobile service of citizens who refuse to get vaccinated in a bid to encourage more of the population to get inoculated.

“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,” said the Punjab health authority in a tweet.

A different spokesperson from the Punjab Specialised Healthcare Department also confirmed the news. "Final decision has been taken to block the mobile SIM cards of people not getting vaccinated,” said Syed Hammad Raza, as reported by local media outlet Dawn.

Shandana Khan, CEO of local NGO Rural Support Programmes Network, said that blocking the SIM cards of people who don’t get vaccinated could be detrimental, in a comment to CBS News.

"In many rural areas where phones are critical to transfer money, take micro-credit, etc., and where vaccines are not readily available, this approach is not likely to work," she said.

"In fact, it will create further problems. There are not enough vaccines at this point either. Getting vaccines and improving outreach in Punjab villages is crucial. Remote villages have no vaccines available, so a door-to-door campaign may be the convincing factor." 

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In April, the heads of Google and Microsoft announced they would help to fight the growing coronavirus crisis in Pakistan’s neighbour, India. Google announced it would give £13 million in new funding to provide cash assistance to families hit hardest by the crisis and help UNICEF get urgent medical supplies. Microsoft stated it would help purchase critical oxygen concentration devices too.

A month later, it emerged that iPhone 12 production fell by 50% at a Foxconn factory in India as workers infected with COVID-19 were forced to leave their posts. The facility, in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, produces the devices for the country. Unnamed sources told Reuters the news, with one stating that over 100 employees tested positive for the virus.

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