Politics Society 15 November 2021

Russia to impose mandatory QR-codes in coronavirus fight

The Russian government submitted legislation to parliament Friday that, if passed, would make QR-codes obligatory to access mass public events, eateries, retailers, and cultural institutions, as well as trains and planes.

  • The new regulations are contained in two laws that are now before the State Duma, and could be passed in a matter of weeks. If the proposed legislation is passed in its current form, it will come fully into force on February 1, 2022. The first bill barely changes the current situation: QR-codes are already in operation in all 85 Russian regions, and governors would still have the final say over which locations require them. The second bill about QR-codes for inter-city and international transport, however, is a different story.
  • The second bill requires people to have a QR-code confirming vaccination, a medical certificate proving a previous case of COVID-19, or a medical exemption from the vaccine from anyone seeking to travel on inter-city or international rail and air services. This will become a requirement not only for boarding, but also for purchasing tickets. Foreigners who have a vaccination that is not recognized by Russia can still travel by train or plane, but will need a negative PCR test.
  • Airlines have said that introducing a QR-code check when selling tickets is impossible as the technology is complicated — and that they require more explanation before QR-codes can be routinely checked when boarding a flight. Russia’s largest private airline, S7, estimated that introducing QR-codes would reduce passenger numbers on internal flights by 50 percent.

  • While the first bill doesn’t much alter the present situation, it likely means that QR-codes will be used more widely, and for longer. It requires regional authorities to restrict attendance at public events, cultural activities, hospitality venues and most retail outlets to those with a QR-code, a certificate proving precious infection or a medical exception. Grocery stores, pharmacies and other essential retail will not be affected.
  • Both these measures will come into force once the law is signed off by the president. Until Feb. 1, people will be able to use a negative PCR test in place of a QR-code, however, after then, the PCR test option will only be available to those who are unable to have the vaccine for medical reasons.
  • At present, the requirement to use a QR-code to access public places is already in operation in all 85 Russian regions. However, in practice, there are often only a few occasions when it is needed: for example, in Moscow, you only need a QR-code when visiting museums and theaters.
  • In regions where QR-codes are currently widely required, retailers have reported a 50 percent drop in footfall. Unsurprisingly, the hospitality industry reacted with horror to the prospect of compulsory QR-codes. Sergei Mironov, ombudsman for the Moscow restaurant sector, said it would lead to the closure of many restaurants. “If 35 percent of people in a region are vaccinated, how can restaurants work at 35 percent capacity? They simply can’t do it,” he said.
  • The QR-code legislation comes amid an ongoing spike in new coronavirus cases and rising fatalities — Russia recorded 1,241 COVID-19 related deaths Saturday, another daily record. Meanwhile, the country’s stalled vaccination campaign shows few signs of picking up. Despite being the first country in the world to register a coronavirus vaccine, barely a third of the population has been fully vaccinated.

Why the world should care: When Moscow closed its restaurants to visitors without QR-codes over the summer, it did encourage people to get jabbed, but businesses paid the price: footfall in the city’s restaurants dropped 90 percent. In addition to the economic impact, it’s known that hundreds of thousands of Russians are willing to risk jail by using fake vaccine certificates, raising the question: will a nationwide QR-code system actually be effective?