St Petersburg University experts review lawfulness of QR codes and their impact on business in St Petersburg

Upon the request of the Commissioner for the Protection of Entrepreneurs’ Rights in St Petersburg, the University experts have evaluated the business environment during the pandemic and challenges that entrepreneurs were faced with in 2021. It was found that about one third suffered from introduction of QR codes and faced shortage of staff. Yet another expert assessment of the centre proved reasonableness and validity of introduction of QR codes to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID pandemic affected all spheres of public life, including the city’s enterprises that are slowly recovering from limitations aimed at containing the spread of the pandemic.

Aleksandr Abrosimov, the Commissioner for the Protection of Entrepreneurs’ Rights in St Petersburg, submitted an application to the Centre of Expert Advice of the University to assess conditions for running businesses during the pandemic. The University experts carried out a comprehensive analysis of the business environment and found out key challenges that companies faced in 2021. Among the new trends was a sharp increase in the shortage of staff, by more than one third in a year.

Thus, shortage of qualified workers is observed in manufacturing, construction, communications, transport, and IT.

The shortage of managerial staff is mostly seen in the science, education and manufacturing. The problem of shortage of engineering staff and specialists is acute in construction and manufacturing, while the demand for low-qualified workforce is registered in transportation, trade, repairs and public catering. The shortage of staff is to a large extent connected with the shortage of labour funds, as a lot of companies had to reduce their costs. However, today the economic indicators of the enterprises are slowly restoring to the pre-pandemic level. According to Anton Popov, Director of the Centre of Expert Advice of the University, in 2021 entrepreneurs more often referred to pandemic restrictions, toughened inspections of competent authorities and increased fines as factors that complicated business operations.

The sociological survey conducted by St Petersburg University specialists found that among the most significant factors that influenced entrepreneurs of St Petersburg were: restrictions on public access to trade centres and other public spaces; introduction of the QR-code system for public catering establishments and public entertainment events; and limitation of the number of visitors.

Maiia Rusakova, Director of the Resource Centre for Sociological and Internet Research, St Petersburg University

‘As a result, 31 % of the entrepreneurs polled said that their business had suffered from the introduction of QR codes for the staff or their clients’, said Maii Rusakova, Director of the Sociological Clinic of Applied Research and Director of the University’s Resource Centre for Sociological and Internet Research.

However, introduction of various restrictive measures which caused difficulties in the business environment is quite well-grounded: this was confirmed by a legal review of lawfulness of the restrictions conducted by the University experts. During the whole pandemic, the Government of St Petersburg was introducing new mandatory requirements, repealed and amended them. Those requirements were temporary and conditioned by the threat of the spread of COVID-19 and its prevalence patterns in St Petersburg.

Thus, with the view to improve the health situation in March 2022 amendments were made to Resolution of the Government of St Petersburg № 121 "On Measures to Counteract the Spread of the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) in St Petersburg".

According to the new amendments, people can now visit any facilities and events without presentation of their QR codes, negative tests, COVID certificates, antibodies or contradictions to vaccination certificates where they were previously required.

The University’s expert review of the restrictions imposed showed that the measures taken by the Government of St Petersburg were lawful and depended on the health situation in the city. Ekaterina Dmitrikova, Candidate of Law, Associate Professor in the Department of Administrative and Financial Law, participated in conducting the review. According to her, the University experts used objective information on the number of the sick. This made it possible to conclude that mandatory requirements had been introduced in St Petersburg reasonably and in view of the degree of danger to the public health.

The general conclusion that the University experts — lawyers, economists and sociologists — have come to is that Regulation No 121, which established a number of restrictions, cannot be considered discriminatory or, moreover, a territorial segregation in respect of entrepreneurs of St Petersburg.

Anton Popov, Director of the Centre of Expert Advice of St Petersburg University

The results of the survey conducted by the University experts show that the necessity of imposing mandatory requirements does not raise any doubt in entrepreneurs themselves, despite probable economic losses.

‘In the current health situation, the economic rights of entrepreneurs do not have the same degree of importance as the life and health of an unlimited number of people. Public catering establishments, for instance, have an alternative, ordering and selling their products for takeaway. The city’s entrepreneurs can also enjoy the existing support measures. However, we can see a low level of entrepreneurs’ awareness of the current state support measures: only one third of the polled have this information’, said Anton Popov, Director of the Centre of Expert Advice of the University.

Overall, 12 University’s experts specialising in the fields of law, economics and sociology participated in the University’s expert reviews on the influence of epidemiological requirements on business activities in St Petersburg.

The review included a survey in which more than 1,000 entrepreneurs from St Petersburg participated, representing all sectors of the city’s economy and with different legal statuses. The subject of the review included 157 federal and regional laws and by-laws.