Well, that was fast. Starting on Monday, Moscovites will no longer have to obtain a government-issued digital health ID for the privilege of sitting inside a restaurant or bar. The requirement is now completely voluntary and enforcement is at the discretion of individual businesses, which is a common Russian euphemism for “RIP QR codes.”
Less than a month ago, Mayor Sergey Sobyanin had defended the openly illiberal scheme as “necessary to save people’s lives.” It’s official, then: Starting from July 19, all the Muscovites in desperate need of life-preservation have been adequately saved by Sobyanin’s digital vax pass. Right? Yes. Just nod and say yes. Good.
How did Moscow’s omnipotent mayor explain the demise of his beloved QR codes? Let’s examine his airtight reasoning.
Highly cynical political & economic considerations
Recall the popular children’s joke:
“Putin’s political machine and Moscow’s business leaders.”
“Okay but you need a QR code in order to —”
“Open the door, Sobyanin. And cut the crap before you embarrass us even more.”
This is not only a fun anecdote for youngsters, but also a concise paraphrase of the constructive feedback that Sobyanin received concerning the undeniable prudence of his QR code regime. According to a press release issued by the mayor’s office announcing the end of the short-lived policy, Sobyanin explained:
“There have been many appeals to me from business, public organizations, party organizations, in particular from the Federation of Restaurateurs and Hoteliers, from United Russia.”
How interesting. We wonder if Sobyanin was instructed to make it crystal clear that United Russia had insisted that the QR codes be dropped, so that Muscovites would be less inclined to do something rash in the voting booth next election? Maybe.
As for the economic variables involved in this equation — the below observation from Moscow’s business ombudsman provides a satisfactory summary of what Sobyanin accomplished over the past three weeks:
“We talked about the fact that almost 200 restaurants have closed in the last two weeks, and 220 in the entire last pandemic year. In two and a half weeks, we lost almost as many establishments as in the entire previous year, which was the hardest for the industry.”
Sounds like a thundering triumph for public health and overall societal well being. And such impressive results in less than 1 month.
But wait — does this mean that Sobyanin put economic and political considerations before The Greater Good? After all, as Sobyanin noted on June 22, the QR code regime was designed to save vast numbers of lives. Economies can be rebuilt, public support can be regained. But what could be more important than Saving Lives?
How dare you allow such a filthy thought to pass through your mind! The healthcare system is no longer on the verge of collapse. Quite suddenly, everything is much better now.
3-week vaccination process magically saves Moscow’s hospitals in 2 weeks
The real and most important reason for Sobyanin’s sudden u-turn is that the existential health crisis facing the city is not such a big crisis anymore:
“The improvement of the epidemiological situation made it possible to make such a decision [to drop QR codes]. So, the number of Covid-19 cases detected daily has almost halved and the number of hospitalizations has decreased by a third. This also made it possible to re-direct more than six thousand beds for planned work.”
This is hardly a coincidence. Catastrophe has been averted thanks to Sobyanin’s visionary approach to mass inoculation (for those unfamiliar: 60% of employees working in many of Moscow’s sectors are now required to get the shot):
“The decrease in indicators is influenced not only by strict adherence to sanitary requirements, but also by mass vaccination. In the last month alone, more than two million people have been vaccinated in the capital. Overall, 3.8 million people received the first component of the vaccine, and more than two million people received the two components.”
As we pointed out in our previous analysis about Sobyanin’s sage forced vaccination policy, hospitalizations in Moscow peaked around two weeks after his June 16 mandatory vax decree. But you typically need to wait at least 3 weeks between your first and second dose of Sputnik V or any other Covid vaccine. And not everyone is rushing to get their second shot, as Sobyanin’s statement makes clear.
But there is another time-related detail that we shouldn’t overlook: According to Russia’s deputy prime minister, “a full-fledged immune response to the vaccine” requires around 42 days.
So… How exactly did Sobyanin’s forced mass vaccination regime save Moscow’s hospitals in two weeks, when full vaccination takes 3 weeks, and Sputnik V requires 42 days to be fully effective? Math is hard.
As for the QR codes themselves: How many hospital beds did they free up between June 28 and July 19? Some restaurants ignored or openly defied the QR code rule, which from the beginning did not even apply to outdoor dining. And it doesn’t sound like the QR codes really “caught on” (source: 200 businesses going bankrupt in less than 3 weeks) at restaurants where they were actually enforced.
Abandoning big plans for QR codes everywhere?
Dropping QR codes for restaurants may signal that Moscow is giving up on ambitious plans, still in their early stages, of using these digital IDs everywhere. For example, several media reports suggested that Sobyanin was thinking about expanding the QR code system to include public transport. There were already signs of extreme mission creep. Quietly, the QR codes became mandatory at certain museums in the city.
So is this the end of Sobyanin’s QR Reich? Maybe. But don’t underestimate his penchant for choosing the worst possible course of action regardless of the circumstances.
So let’s recap: Sobyanin’s QR codes raped 200 businesses to death in under a month. Meanwhile, Sobyanin’s forced vaccination regime, which would need at least 3 weeks — but probably closer to more than a month — in order to be “effective” somehow saved Moscow’s hospitals in 2 weeks. Miraculous.
Thanks for the memories, Sob.
Riley Waggaman is Anti-Empire’s Moscow Correspondent