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Moscow businesses 'obliged' to suspend workers who refuse Covid-19 vaccines as drive to overcome jab skepticism comes into force

Moscow businesses 'obliged' to suspend workers who refuse Covid-19 vaccines as drive to overcome jab skepticism comes into force
Workers who refuse coronavirus vaccines in Moscow, aside from those with a small number of health exemptions, face being sent home without pay as the Russian capital clarifies its tough new measures to deal with a spike in cases.

In a statement issued on Thursday, authorities set out how they plan to implement a directive requiring 60% of public-facing staff to be vaccinated. The order applies to companies in a range of industries, including hospitality, transport and leisure, which will have to demonstrate they are meeting the quotas or else face hefty fines.

Officials confirmed that the rules provide grounds for businesses to withhold pay from workers who do not meet the criteria and, for those who still refuse the jab, "the employer is obliged to suspend the employee from work in the absence of medical contraindications."

However, the guidance notes, "the list of diseases and conditions that count as medical grounds to challenge the need for a COVID-19 vaccination is small." Only those with acute illnesses due to infectious diseases, exacerbations of severe chronic diseases and those with health emergencies can apply for exemptions. However, the regulators say, regular employees are unlikely to count, given "as a rule, people in this state are generally on sick leave, or even hospitalized, and can hardly continue to work."

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Remote workers and those on self-employed contracts are also counted towards companies' 60% quotas, meaning firms will have to ensure they are vaccinated as well in order to avoid a fine. Likewise, those with antibodies are now being encouraged to get the jab as well and will not be exempted.

Moscow set a new record for the maximum number of coronavirus cases recorded in a single day last week, with officials revealing on Friday that 9,056 positive tests had been logged within the previous 24 hours. Mayor Sergey Sobyanin said that the situation is “rapidly deteriorating,” and that the sudden rise in cases was “quite unexpected” given the estimated levels of immunity in the population.

Data from research firm Morning Consult, based on 75,000 weekly interviews with people across the globe, found Russia has the highest level of vaccine skepticism of anywhere surveyed, with more than half of respondents unwilling or uncertain about getting the jab.

On Tuesday, Moscow officials announced that only vaccinated people, as well as those who have had the virus within the past six months, would be able to freely enter bars, cafes and restaurants in the city. Those eligible will be able to scan a QR code to prove they have antibodies, while others will have to have taken a PCR test within the past three days.

Also on rt.com Nearly half of Russians now back mandatory Covid-19 vaccination & 61% of those yet to get jab now planning to do so, polls say

Russia's human rights ombudsman, Tatyana Moskalkova, called the move “a dishonest game.” She said that “the mechanisms by which it is being implemented are giving rise to mass psychosis and making people fear coercion.”

Two new polls released on Wednesday found that almost half of Russians surveyed back the new measures in Moscow, while 61% of those asked by researchers now plan to be vaccinated in the near future.

The Kremlin has defended the city government's decision, with presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying the country's top leadership supports the new measures in response to a uniquely difficult epidemiological situation.

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