Russian regions introduce QR codes for entry to public venues as COVID-19 cases hit record

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Many Russian regions on Monday announced plans to keep cafes, museums and other public venues open only to those who have recently recovered from COVID-19, have proof of inoculation with a Russian vaccine or a negative coronavirus test, as new cases in the country hit a record.

The round of unpopular measures that limits freedoms in Russia comes as the number of daily COVID-19 infections reached an all-time high of 34,325 despite the state-driven vaccination programme.

St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city of around 5 million people, said on Monday only people with a QR code showing they meet the criteria will be allowed to visit cafes or restaurants from Dec. 1, joining many other regions that have imposed similar restrictions.

From Nov. 15, St. Petersburg will require a QR code for those who want to attend swimming pools, gyms, theatres and cinemas.

Earlier this year, Moscow was first to impose a QR code system, under which a unique electronic code was required to visit restaurants, gyms, beauty parlours, hairdressers, cinemas or to stay in hotels. The system was halted in mid-July.

The restrictions, designed to rein in the COVID-19 surge, prompted a backlash from businesses that said the measures threatened the closure of thousands of firms in the service industries. But they helped increase the number of vaccinations.

Russia was quick to develop and launch its Sputnik vaccine when the coronavirus pandemic struck last year, but uptake has been slow, with many Russians citing distrust of the authorities and fear of new medical products.

Only around 48 million out of 144 million Russians were fully vaccinated as of mid-October, with 51 million having received one shot.

Other regions in Russia that have already imposed or are planning to gradually introduce various QR code requirements include Bashkiria, Nizhegorod region, Perm region, Saratov and Krasdonar regions, among many others.

(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh and Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Andrey Ostroukh and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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