Russia backs away from unpopular anti-coronavirus measures

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The Russian government has decided to delay a controversial bill that seeks to access public places confirming vaccination or recovery from COVID-19, despite rising cases and warnings from top officials about the highly contagious Omikron variant. A QR code is required.

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MOSCOW — The Russian government on Friday chose to delay the adoption of an unpopular law that restricts access to public places for uninfected people, despite warnings from top officials about a spike in infections and the spread of the Omicron version. .

Russia reported 23,820 new infections, a 12% increase from the previous day, and 739 deaths. Moscow officials also reported 729 confirmed Omicron-type cases in the capital since December 20, and Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova had reported 698 cases across Russia – more than double the total from the day before.

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

The Omicron type spreads more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects people who have been vaccinated or who have previously been infected with earlier versions of the virus. However, early studies suggest that Omicron is less likely to cause serious illness than the previous delta version.

Golikova said the law was postponed due to “high uncertainty” as the draft bill was originally drafted in response to the delta version, but that “new challenges” have arisen.

The bill requires Russians wishing to access certain public places to have a QR code that either confirms vaccination, has been recently cured of COVID-19, or is medically exempt from vaccination.

The initiative, along with another bill proposing a uniform system for both domestic and international planes and trains, was met with high resistance among the largely vaccine-skeptical population. The Transport Bill was withdrawn from Parliament last month, but the bill, which reads first in public places, was passed.

Golikova said the bill would be amended to allow Russians with negative tests to receive short-term QR codes.

State Duma chairman Vyacheslav Volodin said the bill would be withdrawn from parliament as long as the government makes changes.

QR code requirements already exist in some parts of Russia and vary on a region-by-region basis. They are mostly used for travel, and to access public places such as museums and theatres.

President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday described the virus situation in the country as “very difficult” and urged the government to prepare.

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

Anna Popova, the head of Russia’s public health agency Rospotrebnadzor, estimated on Tuesday that Russia could face six-figure daily infection numbers.

Russia’s state 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 Agency, which uses broader counting criteria, rates the death toll as very high, saying the total number of virus-linked deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 was more than 625,000.

Russia only had a nationwide lockdown in 2020, and in October of that year, many Russians were ordered off work for a week amid a surge in infections and deaths. However, authorities have generally opposed closing businesses or imposing any strict restrictions.

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