The QR code siege of St. Petersburg
If St. Pete falls it's basically lights out for the rest of Russia
St. Petersburg “will not return to its former way of life,” governor Alexander Beglov said in an interview on January 3, a day after the city ratcheted up its QR code regime. “COVID is with us for a long time. Our task is to return the city to its usual business in the conditions of the new normality, to accelerate the transition to a new norm. New restrictions, empowering employers to exclude the unvaccinated from work, new vaccination incentives and ubiquitous QR codes are an important and very timely step in this direction.”
Since autumn, St. Pete has required QR codes for museums and a limited range of business establishments and venues. As of January 2, a digital health pass is now required when visiting shops (excluding grocery stores), restaurants and bars, cultural institutions, swimming pools, fitness centers, entertainment establishments, hotels, wedding ceremonies and sporting events with over 40 people in attendance.
If you don’t have a QR code you are basically limited to buying groceries and going to the pharmacy. Don’t worry: if you miss socializing with others, you have permission to sit at your favorite gas station café—the real St. Petersburg experience, just as Gogol described it in his famous short story, The Unvaxxed Nose.
“Hello, I would like an ice cream cone”; “passport and QR code, please”
So, what does this “important and very timely step” toward de facto forced vaccination look like, in practice?
On Nevsky Prospect, unvaccinated people can walk past the Venezia gelateria. In order to enjoy eighteen types of Italian ice cream, you need a QR code. They warn about this even at the stage of ordering a table and do not forget to check at the entrance. In addition, they ask for a passport.
According to one testimonial, a woman’s 17-year-old daughter was turned away at a mall—even though minors don’t need QR codes. For obvious public health reasons, under-18s cannot buy stuff at the mall without an adult chaperone. Apparently Omicron is a creep and only preys on unaccompanied minors.
Another St. Petersburg native said she was blocked from buying baby food because she was without a digital pass. This is the only way to defeat positive PCR tests.
Our unvaxxed informant in St. Pete reported she was able to purchase a beverage at a bakery-type place but was not allowed to sit down. And then a QR-tagged customer barked at her as she left. What is the meaning of this?
The new norm: not so great for small businesses
They will murder small businesses.
Alexander Romanenko, who co-owns a brewery and series of bars in the city, had this to say about the new digital pass requirement:
“We are not ready either morally or financially. Employees in a panic wrote resignations and quit. Guest traffic to our establishments without QR codes, but with limited hours of operation, is now less than 50% of previous years… QR codes will be added today, we will probably last for maybe a couple of weeks, a month at most.”
He added St. Petersburg is “full of establishments that work at night, without QR codes… they spit on restrictions.”
Alexander Konovalov, who owns 200 businesses in the city, has been spitting on COVID restrictions since St. Pete’s first lockdown. And he will continue to do so, because he understands obeying the QR code regime would be fatal to his businesses:
- “We are not going to ask for QR codes, well, because it is unfair… Personally, I myself have never entered a bar with a QR code, and not only in a bar, in any institution, but in cinemas they began to ask—I stopped going there.”
- And what about fines, inspections, checks?
- “If you are afraid of this, it means not doing business. Remember, there were previous lockdowns when the establishments were closed, our establishments were not closed for a single day, thanks to this we saved them, saved the team that did not quit, in principle resisted, and a huge number of colleagues closed.”
It’s a precarious situation. Probably the only way to avoid the wholesale slaughter of the city’s small businesses is for establishments to ignore the QR code rule and all other restrictions. These establishments should understand that compliance—assuming they manage to stay afloat—will only temporarily prolong their existence. There will be new business-killing scams and restrictions up the road.
Recall the massacre that occurred over the summer when Moscow tried to introduce QR codes for bars and restaurants:
“[A]lmost 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.”
Comply and die. Simple, really.
We should point out that Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin was forced to end the small business bloodbath because State Duma elections were coming up and United Russia had to briefly pretend that it cared about the peasants. Now that Russia has “voted,” there is no need to pause the economic slaughter.
The State Duma is expected to vote on the introduction of nationwide QR codes sometime this month. There’s a fairly good chance this deranged and anti-human legislation—fully supported by President Vladimir Putin, by the way—will pass. We’re in the danger zone.
Unfortunately for St. Pete and the rest of Russia, ignoring the QR code regime won’t be enough. There is no middle ground here. Either digital cattle tags are rescinded and abolished forever, or it’s game over.