Business Economy Politics 6 July 2021

Moscow’s backdoor lockdown hits hospitality sector

Russian officials scrupulously avoid using words like ‘lockdown’. Last summer, the official euphemism for lockdown was ‘non-working days’; today, officially, not even that. However, Moscow’s hospitality sector is suffering from a strict de facto lockdown that does not come with state support and has little chance of taming the pandemic.

  • Since Monday, entrance to Moscow’s cafes and restaurants has only been possible with a QR code. Anyone can dine on a veranda — but only until July 12. The QR codes are issued to those who have recovered from a COVID-19 diagnosis (i.e. those treated in state institutions) and/or those who have received both doses of a vaccine. However, Moscow wouldn’t be Moscow if it all worked smoothly: 19,000 people, including this writer, were unable to get a QR code because of ‘technical reasons’.
  • When the new rules were announced, we reported on industry fears that this was a new lockdown in all but name that would have a catastrophic impact on the hospitality sector. According to Igor Bukharov, the president of the Federation of Restaurateurs and Hoteliers, businesses without outside seating have lost up to 90 percent of their trade and those with terraces have seen a 60 percent drop.
  • The owners of cafes and restaurants and figures in the banking sector have given different assessments, but in most reports takings are down up to 60 percent. Either way, there is a general agreement the restrictions are having a serious impact on the economy. The fact is that the introduction of QR codes means cafes and restaurants in downtown Moscow are deserted. Many terraces are also empty because they are not legally recognized as outdoor areas.
  • The decision to close restaurants and cafes to the unvaccinated shocked the hospitality industry — particularly as many were expecting nothing more than a requirement to vaccinate 60 percent of their staff. Restaurateur Dmitry Levitsky signed off an account of one meeting with City Hall officials with the words “Sobyanin is power” (Segei Sobyanin is the mayor of Moscow). Now, Levitsky, who has said his takings have fallen fivefold, is reminded of these words in the comments to almost all his posts on Telegram. Others are enraged by the authorities’ insistence that the measures haven’t seriously impacted business.
  • Every expert contacted by The Bell — or any other independent media outlet — agreed that these restrictions will not stop the powerful Delta variant from continuing to spread rapidly. And it doesn’t take an epidemiologist to understand that the virus is not transmitted solely in cafes and restaurants — but also on public transport full of unmasked passengers or among crowds of holidaymakers at Black Sea resorts.
  • The numbers of infections and deaths from coronavirus continue to rise rapidly, with Moscow and St. Petersburg particular hotspots. Across the whole country, over 24,000 new cases are being recorded each day, with more than 600 daily deaths. Most of these cases are in Moscow, where 116 people died and 7,500 were infected Friday. The Moscow authorities have admitted that they could run out of hospital capacity for COVID-19 patients.

Why the world should care: Public resentment over coronavirus restrictions is nothing new. But Russia is following its own path. Right now, it appears that the major flashpoints are a mandatory vaccination campaign and targeted restrictions. But who knows how this will change if infection and death rates do not begin to level off.