Authorities in the Russian capital on Friday canceled their order for restaurants to only admit customers who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, recovered from the coronavirus or can produce a negative test.
The softening of restrictions reflects their devastating impact on restaurant owners, who pleaded with city officials to rescind them. The decision comes even as the capital is continuing to see a surge in infections and Russia registered a new daily record of coronavirus deaths Friday.
The move announced by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin takes effect Monday. It retracts the measure that has been in place since late June, obliging restaurants and cafes to check if customers have been vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months or tested negative for the coronavirus in the previous 72 hours.
Customers have been required to visit a government website and get a QR code — a digital pattern designed to be read by a scanner — as proof of their health status.
The restrictions have dealt a devastating blow to restaurant owners, who were still struggling to recover from the damage caused by the pandemic, forcing many to close. In one exemption, outdoor terraces were allowed to continue to operate without restrictions, but many restaurants and cafes just don't have room to set them up on the city center's narrow pavements.
Sobyanin said that the city reversed the decision because the pace of contagion has slowed.
His statement came on the day Russia registered another record-high daily number of deaths, with the authorities reporting 799 fatalities, including 105 in Moscow.
It was the fourth straight day that the country registered a record number of COVID-19 deaths. Daily new infections in Russia have soared from around 9,000 in early June to more than 25,000 and daily fatalities have been topping 700 since last week.
On Friday, officials reported 25,704 new coronavirus cases, including 5,382 in Moscow.
Officials blamed the surge on Russians’ lax attitude toward taking precautions, the growing prevalence of the more contagious delta variant and widespread vaccination hesitancy. The pace of vaccination has remained lower than in many Western countries, and as of Tuesday, 28.6 million Russians — or just 19.5% of the 146 million population — have received at least one shot of a vaccine.
To speed up vaccine uptake, authorities in nearly 30 Russian regions have made vaccinations mandatory for certain groups of people, including those employed in health care, education, retail, public transport, government offices and services sector.
Moscow's QR-codes requirement for restaurants was also seen as part of efforts to encourage faster vaccination.
Russia’s state coronavirus task force has reported more than 5.9 million confirmed coronavirus cases and a total of 146,868 confirmed deaths in the pandemic. However, reports by Russia’s state statistical service Rosstat, which tallies coronavirus-linked deaths retroactively, reveal much higher numbers.