bne IntelliNews – Moscow introduces compulsory coronavirus vaccination

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In what will be the most unpopular decision since the state raised the retirement age, Moscow’s mayor Sergei Sobyanin on June 16 announced a mandatory vaccination program.

The mayor’s decision comes as infection rates in the Russian capital skyrocket to more than 6,000 new cases a day, a level not seen since January last year, and infection rates in the Nationwide are going from about 8,000 new cases a day to over 13,000 again. .

Moscow is the epicenter of what is quickly turning into a fourth wave of the pandemic, despite the widespread availability of Russia’s highly effective Sputnik V vaccine. However, the population, wary of the authorities, simply refused to be vaccinated and largely abandoned social distancing and mask-wearing precautions.

Sobianine’s decision is a sharp about-face after At the end of May, President Vladimir Putin publicly ruled out compulsory vaccination as “impractical and impossible”.

Authorities in Moscow are announcing the compulsory vaccination of at least one million Muscovites, including in the greater Moscow region, a separate administrative district that surrounds the capital. Employers in the service sector must ensure that 60% of employees are vaccinated within one month, according to an order signed by the Moscow chief medical officer.

The measures will affect not only employees of cafes, shops, fitness clubs and beauty salons, but also staff of banks, post offices, theaters and museums. A similar order was issued by authorities in the Moscow region.

This is the second time that Sobyanin has taken public responsibility for an unpopular public health decision. At the start of the pandemic a year ago, authorities were hesitant and reluctant to impose a lockdown, until Sobyanin made the decision and locked Moscow into one of the strictest regimes of the time. Other major Russian cities followed suit in a matter of days.

However, the decision to force Russians to get vaccinated will be extremely unpopular. Putin said Russia is expected to achieve herd immunity by September, but with only 12% of the population vaccinated at the current rate of inoculation, it will be until 2022 for herd immunity to be achieved. As bne IntelliNews contributor Jason Corcoran wrote this week, the Russians have reached herd hostility to vaccination. A survey by independent pollsters from the Levada Center in May indicated 62% of Russians refuse to be vaccinated, while 55% are not afraid of contracting the virus.

Sobyanin has already locked Moscow back on June 12 for a week, extending a public holiday in hopes of lowering infection rates. But now the mayor reports that the situation with the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Moscow continues to develop dramatically. The situation has reached a crisis point where getting vaccinated is “no longer a personal choice,” the mayor said on social media.

“When you go out into public places and come into contact with other people, intentionally or not, you become an accomplice in the epidemiological process.” Therefore, the decision of compulsory vaccination was taken for service workers, he concluded.

The Kremlin stood aside, allowing Moscow City Hall to suffer the inevitable backlash. The imposition of mandatory vaccinations came just after Russian President Vladimir Putin left the country for his summit with US President Joe Biden in Geneva on June 16.

As bne IntelliNews Reported, there was an attempt to introduce compulsory vaccination in the Sakha region (Yakutia), but the order was quickly canceled following a public outcry.

The Kremlin is currently walking on eggshells as it tries to deal with popular sentiment ahead of the key parliamentary elections in September, where it wants to reinstall the ruling, but highly unpopular, United Russia with a majority.

As recently as last week, the presidential administration ensured that compulsory vaccination was highly unlikely before September, but most likely after the election, reports The Bell. As a result, Sobyanin’s announcement came out of the blue and testifies to the gravity of the situation.

Sobyanin has already pledged that by July 1, authorities in Moscow will create a mechanism to monitor vaccination rates.

Deadlines are tight (until July 15, employers must ensure that 60% of employees are vaccinated with the first component of the coronavirus vaccine or a one-component vaccine), and penalties for non- compliance will be severe, reports The Bell.

The fine for a single failure to comply with the obligation to vaccinate employees for individual contractors will be RUB 30,000 to RUB 50,000 ($ 413 to $ 690) per unvaccinated employee and RUB 100,000 to RUB 300,000 ($ 1,378 to $ 4,137) for organizations.

In case of health damage or repeated violation, an official can be fined 300,000 to 500,000 RUB, a legal person or individual entrepreneur from 500,000 RUB to 1 min RUB, or have his work suspended up to 90 days.

Business is still in disarray, reports The Bell, as managers grapple with how to get reluctant workers to fire and many companies have turned to the city for help. One problem is that many regions employ migrants who are not vaccinated or even registered in Russia. Taxi and delivery services have already approached authorities asking them to make vaccines available to them, but no decision has been taken. Consultations on this are underway, restaurateur Dmitry Levitsky wrote in his Telegram channel, as quoted by The Bell.

It is also not known whether the City has the power to order vaccinations. The Bell asked lawyers how legal the partial mandatory vaccination decision was and what the company and employees would expect if the requirements were not met. In short, the formal question of such a resolution violates neither the Constitution nor individual laws, experts say.

There is a federal law “on the immunization of infectious diseases” which appears to give the government the necessary powers to impose compulsory vaccination. Decisions on preventive vaccinations for epidemic indications can be made by the chief medical officers of the constituent entities of Russia. The conditions for making such a decision are also set there: preventive vaccinations can become compulsory when there is a threat of infectious diseases listed by the Ministry of Health.

The Russian constitution is very strict when it comes to public health, and the state is obligated by basic law to provide full and comprehensive health care to all citizens free of charge. Under normal circumstances, participating in an immunization program is a right, not an obligation, for almost everyone. But if a special resolution of the chief medical officer of health is issued, vaccination then becomes compulsory for the categories of citizens listed there, adds Dmitry Gorbunov, partner of the firm “Rustam Kurmaev and Partners”.

Under the Sobianine ordinance, the obligation of companies to vaccinate their employees extends beyond those with an employment contract, to also include individual entrepreneurs, and even for the self-employed. All responsibility for vaccinations rests with the company, not unvaccinated employees, the lawyers say.

Moscow is not alone in taking this drastic step since a similar ordinance was recently issued in Azerbaijan, where around 80% of all workers are employed in the service sector.

Other countries that have debated the measure include Australia, where in August last year Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said coronavirus vaccination should become mandatory and denial of it should not be possible. only for medical reasons.

Indonesian authorities announced in February that a fine of IDR 5 million (about $ 350) could be imposed for refusal of vaccination. It was intended that the punishment would be imposed on those who can already get the vaccine, but refuse for some reason. Vaccinations in Indonesia began in May, but no fines have yet been reported.

If necessary, compulsory vaccination can also be introduced in Brazil. The right to order compulsory vaccinations was granted to the state by the country’s Supreme Court in December last year. A higher court has ruled that a COVID-19 vaccine could be mandatory if the law is in place, according to the ruling.

Authorities in the United States have the right to introduce mandatory vaccinations. There, the Congressional Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that employers have the right to force their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. It will only be possible to refuse it because of a disability or because of religious beliefs. At the same time, the employer is obliged to provide those who have not been vaccinated comfortable conditions for remote work. The management of the American company Kroger, which owns one of the largest supermarket chains in the United States, has decided to pay employees $ 100 if they are vaccinated against the coronavirus.

However, most countries prefer to do things differently, motivating citizens to get vaccinated with green passports, company incentives, full reopening permits, or free movement (more on these practices here).

In Russia, there are no special benefits for vaccinated people yet. But this is hardly the only explanation for the dramatic lag in vaccination rates compared to other countries.

As of June 3, only 1.5 million people were vaccinated in Moscow, just over 10% of the population, according to the latest data. The mandatory vaccination of trade and service workers announced on June 16 could at least double that number, The Bell calculated.

In the Moscow region, as of June 16, 1.15 to 1.20 million people were vaccinated, or 30% of the population. About the same number of people, according to the Rosstat administration for Moscow and the Moscow region, are officially employed in organizations subject to compulsory vaccination.

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