Russia backs off from unpopular COVID-19 restrictions

The Russian The government has chosen to delay the adoption of unpopular legislation restricting access to public places for unvaccinated individuals, despite a rise in infections and warnings from top officials about the spread of the omicron variant.

The country reported 23,820 new infections, a 12% increase from the previous day and 739 deaths. Moscow officials also reported 729 confirmed cases of ommicron variants in the capital since Dec. 20, and Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said 783 cases have been confirmed across Russia.

Golikova said the legislation has been postponed due to the “great uncertainty” as the draft bill was originally drafted in response to the delta variant, but “new challenges” have emerged.

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Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova during a briefing on changes to a QR code bill at the Russian government building.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova during a briefing on changes to a QR code bill at the Russian government building.
(Dmitry Astakhov TASS via Getty Images)

The bill required Russians wishing to access certain public places to have a QR code confirming vaccination, recent recovery from COVID-19, or a medical waiver from immunization.

The initiative, along with another bill proposing a similar system for both domestic and international planes and trains, has met strong resistance from a largely vaccine-skeptical population. The transport law was withdrawn from parliament last month, but the one on public places passed first reading.

Golikova said the bill will be amended to allow Russians with negative tests to get QR codes at short notice.

State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said the bill will be withdrawn from parliament while the government makes changes.

The QR code requirements are already in place in some parts of Russia and vary from region to region. They are mostly used for travel and to access public spaces such as museums and theaters.

President Vladimir Putin called the virus situation in the country “very difficult” and urged the government to prepare.

Golikova promised to present new response measures by the end of the week.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on Friday that omicron is responsible for nearly half of all new infections in the capital, as the daily number of cases is expected to rise to 7,000 on Saturday.

The variant spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those vaccinated or previously infected by previous versions of the virus. However, early studies show that ommicron is less likely to cause serious disease than the previous delta variant.

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Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova addresses a meeting in the Russian State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, to discuss controversial proposed legislation on the use of QR codes for vaccination on public transport and in public places.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova addresses a meeting in the Russian State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, to discuss controversial proposed legislation on the use of QR codes for vaccination on public transport and in public places.
(Russian State DumaTASS via Getty Images)

Russia’s coronavirus task force has recorded more than 10.7 million confirmed infections and 319,911 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Russia’s state statistics office, which uses broader counting criteria, estimates the death toll much higher and says the total number of virus-related deaths exceeded 625,000 between April 2020 and October 2021.

Russia had only one nationwide shutdown, in 2020, and in October of the same year, many Russians were ordered to go out of work for a week amid a surge in infections and deaths. Overall, however, authorities have resisted closing businesses or imposing severe restrictions.

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