MOSCOW (AP) — Restaurants and cafes in Moscow on Monday began requesting that patrons provide proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test as the Russian capital faces a surge of new infections.
According to a decision by city authorities last week, all Moscow restaurants, cafes and bars must only admit customers who have been vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months or can provide a negative coronavirus test from the previous 72 hours.
As proof of vaccination for entering a restaurant, customers must visit a government website and get a QR code, a digital pattern designed to be read by a scanner.
“Usually at this hour people come at lunch and there are no free tables," said Andrei Popov, a Moscow barkeeper. "Today we had just few visitors, around 10 people. I don’t think we’ll have more visitors in the evening as we don’t have any reservations for tonight.”
In one concession to desperate restaurant owners, the city officials agreed that the QR codes aren’t needed for the next two weeks at establishments with outdoor terraces. Underage customers won’t have to provide documentation if accompanied by their parents.
The new restrictions come as Moscow has registered infection levels on par with last winter and recorded all-time high daily numbers of coronavirus deaths.
“The coronavirus situation in Moscow remains extremely difficult,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin told reporters. “Over the past week, we have registered new record highs of hospitalizations, ICU patients and coronavirus deaths.”
Although Russia was the first country to announce a coronavirus vaccine, only about 14% of the population has received at least one shot of a vaccine.
Officials have blamed widespread skepticism about vaccines, lax attitudes toward taking necessary precautions and a quick spread of more infectious variants.
Amid the surge, 18 Russian regions — from Moscow and St. Petersburg to the remote far-eastern region of Sakhalin — have made vaccinations mandatory this month for employees in certain sectors, such as government offices, retail, health care, education, restaurants and other service industries.
In Moscow, authorities said companies should suspend without pay employees unwilling to get vaccinated, and they threatened to temporarily halt operations of businesses that don’t meet the goal of having 60% of staff get at least one vaccine shot by July 15 and both shots by Aug. 15.
Russia's coronavirus task force on Monday reported 21,650 new infections and said 611 people died over the past day. Moscow, the region around the capital and the country's second-largest city of St. Petersburg account for the bulk of infections.
Since the pandemic started, Russia has recorded 5.47 million infection cases and 133,893 deaths.
Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said Monday that the country's health care system has spent more than 1 trillion rubles (about $14 billion) to counter the pandemic.
Associated Press journalist Kostya Manenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.
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