MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Friday it had postponed the second reading in parliament of a draft law that would require people to show QR codes demonstrating proof of immunity to COVID-19 in order to visit certain public places.
Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said new challenges had arisen since the bill was initially prepared in response to the Delta strain of COVID-19. Authorities are now bracing for an intense rise in cases due to the highly contagious Omicron variant.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said a serious increase in Omicron cases would grip the capital in the coming days, news agencies reported. The mayor’s office said 729 cases of Omicron have been detected in Moscow, where it now accounts for over 40% of infections, Izvestia newspaper said.
Authorities have used QR codes, which citizens can receive if they have been vaccinated, recovered from COVID-19 or have a negative PCR-test, to control access to various public settings but there is no unified approach across Russia’s 80-plus regions.
Strong public opposition led the Russian parliament to shelve a draft bill last month that would have required people travelling by plane or train to present QR codes.
The bill whose progress was delayed on Friday would have prevented citizens from using a PCR-test to access a QR code from Feb. 1, effectively forcing people wishing to visit public settings like restaurants, theatres and museums to get vaccinated.
But Golikova said changing that requirement was among the amendments that may be made before the bill goes to a second reading in the State Duma, the Russian parliament’s lower house.
The Kremlin has expressed frequent frustration at the slow public uptake of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine.
Russia’s daily coronavirus case numbers have fallen from a peak of 41,335 in early November, but have jumped by nearly 6,000 since Wednesday as Russians return to work after long New Year holidays, with 23,820 new coronavirus cases reported nationwide on Friday.
The bill, once reworked, would need to be approved by both houses of parliament and signed by President Vladimir Putin before coming into force.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)