The head of a Pakistani province ordered Thursday that government employees who refuse to be vaccinated against Covid-19 would not be paid from next month.
Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah announced the move after meeting with health officials to discuss the first cases of the delta variant detected in the province, which includes the megacity of Karachi.
“Any government employee who is not vaccinated should have their salary stopped from July,” he tweeted, adding that orders had been given to the finance ministry.
A third wave of infections has begun to stabilise in the country after weeks of restrictions on public gatherings, but Sindh province has reported the highest number of cases since the pandemic began.
Pakistan’s initially sluggish vaccination rollout has been ramped up in recent weeks with more than 200,000 doses administered most days.
But the impoverished country has fully vaccinated only around 2.2 million people – a fraction of its 220 million population.
Misinformation and conspiracy theories about the side effects of the jab have sparked hesitancy in Pakistan, while the requirement to have a mobile phone to register for a shot has proved a barrier for some poor and illiterate citizens.
Those in rural areas have also struggled to get access to vaccine centres, the majority of which are in major cities.
The Sindh salary order mystified employee representatives.
“This is a strange order, as people are very much volunteering and willing to get vaccinated,” said Liaqat Sahi, the secretary general of a labour union at the central State Bank of Pakistan, adding that he has been vaccinated.
“Instead the government should… create more vaccination centres, especially in rural areas.”
Pakistan has recorded more than 850,000 infections and 21,022 deaths, but with limited testing and a ramshackle healthcare sector, many fear the true extent of the disease is much worse.
This week it opened up jabs – the majority of which have come from its neighbour China – to all adults above the age of 18.