Russia backs away from unpopular anti-coronavirus measures

MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian government on Friday chose to delay passing unpopular legislation restricting access to public places for the unvaccinated, despite a spike in infections and warnings from senior officials about the spread of the virus. omicron variant.

Russia reported 23,820 new infections, a 12% increase from the previous day, and 739 deaths. Moscow officials have also reported 729 confirmed cases of omicron variants in the capital since December 20, and just two days before Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova reported 698 cases across Russia, more than double the previous day’s total.

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

The omicron variant spreads even 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 previously infected with earlier versions of the virus. However, early studies show that omicron is less likely to cause severe disease than the previous delta variant.

Golikova said the legislation was postponed due to the “great uncertainty” as the bill was originally prepared in response to the delta variant, but “new challenges” have arisen.

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

The initiative, along with another bill proposing a similar system for domestic and international planes and trains, has met with strong resistance among a largely vaccine-skeptical population. The Transport Bill was withdrawn from parliament last month, but the Public Places Bill passed its first reading.

Golikova said the bill will be amended to allow Russians who test negative to get short-term QR codes.

State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said the bill would be withdrawn from parliament while the government makes changes.

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

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

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

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

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 national statistics agency, which uses broader counting criteria, estimates the death toll much higher, saying the total number of virus-related deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 was over 625,000.

Russia has had only one nationwide lockdown, in 2020, and in October of the same year many Russians were ordered to be off work for a week in the middle of a increase in infections and deaths. However, authorities have generally resisted closing businesses or imposing strict restrictions.

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Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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