'We are being forced to put a garrote around our neck strangle our business with our own hands'

Shopping centres of the Republic of Tatarstan have lost up to 70% of the flow of visitors and have not received answers to their questions

'We are being forced to put a garrote around our neck strangle our business with our own hands'
Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov

The Ministry of Industry and Trade of Tatarstan organised a meeting via videoconferencing, at which retail market players were to be explained what rules they must work under in connection with the introduction of the mandatory requirement of QR codes. It was attended by the heads and managers of shopping centres of the republic, and the representatives of the authorities (Ministry of Industry and Trade, Rospotrebnadzor, CCI, Ministry of Justice) gave them explanations. The sources of Realnoe Vremya who attended this event remain somewhat perplexed: according to them, the explanations were received as formal as possible, while the responsibility on shopping centres turns out to be exorbitant.

What the meeting ended with

Here are the most important points received by representatives of shopping centres and their tenants:

  • The employees of shopping centres or representatives of the PSCs who work there are obliged not only to scan QR codes, but also to check whether it really belongs to a particular citizen. The responsibility for the fact that a person leaks into the shopping centre using someone else's QR code is assigned to the shopping centre.
  • They don't have to check QR codes if a person enters a grocery store as part of a shopping centre through a separate entrance. However, the management of the shopping centre must ensure that visitors from the grocery supermarket cannot go further inside the shopping centre without a QR code.
  • The same applies to stores in the Detsky Mir format, where essential items are sold. But only if their area is no more than 400 square metres and if they have a separate entrance.
  • At the entrance to the shopping centre, they are obliged not only to check the “entrance documents”, but also to measure the temperature of each visitor.
  • Couriers of delivery services have the right to enter the shopping centre without restrictions until 8 November, 2021. Further, they will be subject to the requirement of mandatory vaccination of certain groups of citizens (which was issued a few days after the resolution of QR codes).

In connection with the above, representatives of shopping centres have serious questions. However, as they themselves say, they haven't been provided with give clear answers at the meeting.

One of the most pressing questions is how the shopping centre should check the compliance of the QR code and the person's identity. Photo: Maksim Platonov

A PSC with a police function?

There is something to think about. For example, one of the most pressing questions is how the shopping centre should check the compliance of the QR code and the person's identity. The document that opens by the code is not provided with a photo— which means that it remains only to require an identity card and verify it with the data provided. Theoretically, if a citizen has the good will, it can be done. But neither an employee of a PSC, nor even more so an employee of a shopping centre, by law, is authorised to demand from a person, for example, the demonstration of a passport. This can be done by an employee of the supervisory authorities. But, of course, you can't put police or Rosgvardiya officers in the shopping centre. Now the directors of shopping centres were surprised to hear that the responsibility for the non-compliance of the personality and the code, it turns out, is assigned to them.

Yelena Stryukova, the director for development and operation of the commercial real estate department at Essen Production AG JSC, says:

“The conflict is the following: there is the resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers, which does not directly say that we have to check the identity card. At the meeting, they explained to us: “But it also says that you are obliged to check the QR code. Therefore, it is your task to check its reliability as well.” At the same time, they did not list a single regulatory document according to which we can do this. Meanwhile, every day we hear at our facilities: “I will not show you the document, because you have no right to ask me for it”…

Oleg Mityunin, the commercial director of UD-Group (manages the portfolio of retail and office segments, including Gorkipark shopping centre), is in solidarity with his colleague:

“We understand that they are now trying to force us to perform the unusual function for us — to check identity cards instead of the police. When asked how we should do this (although it is not spelled out in the regulations), we were answered: in any convenient way. But there are no convenient ways. Besides, citizens are not required to carry documents with them. We have taken all available measures: our employees ask citizens if this is their QR code exactly. What else can we do? According to the decree, we are obliged to check only the QR codes themselves, and we do this.”

Olesya Rybakova, the director of Raduzhny shopping centre (Osinovo village, Salavat Kupere residential complex), points out that this problem would not exist if a photo was provided in the QR code:

“At the meeting, our questions were not answered, especially about which document regulates identity verification. We were told: 'in any convenient way', but we do not have such powers. But at the same time, the responsibility for finding a person with a false code in the shopping centre is assigned to the shopping centre. Why is the QR code not designed so that at least a photo is shown? It turns out that we suffer for this flaw.”

At whose expense to equip the guards?

Due to the fact that the load on the security of shopping centres is dramatically increasing (now it is necessary not only to monitor the order there, but also to organise entrance control), the costs of its maintenance are also increasing. For example, to begin with, shopping centres had to purchase equipment for reading QR codes for PSC employees. At the meeting, of course, their managers were told that any smartphone can scan the code. But in the end, it turns out that not every PSC employee in all shopping centres of the republic has a personal smartphone for these purposes.

Oleg Mityunin tells how the problem was solved in GorkiPark shopping centre:

“In the early days, everyone used personal mobile phones, but not everyone had them. Therefore, employees were at the entrances and checked the codes. So we bought smartphones, spending some money on it. Besides, by noon on the first day, the cell phones had already died due to the constant operation of the camera. So we also had to buy powerbanks for the entrances as well. Plus, it was necessary to strengthen security at all entrances. We redistributed the posts, but still had to conclude an additional agreement with the PSC, with which we work. I think the additional costs for all these activities will eventually result in more than one hundred thousand rubles.”

Traffic dropped by 60-70%

Traffic is no longer an illusory problem. Its collapse roughly corresponds to the proportions of vaccinated and unvaccinated citizens in Tatarstan. For example, if we assume that about 30% of Tatarstan residents have been vaccinated, then it becomes clear why the attendance of shopping centres collapsed by at least 60% over the past week.

Roman Kotenkov informed our publication that by the results of five days of work with QR codes, the loss of visitor traffic in Koltso shopping centre is tentatively estimated at 60-70%.

Paying with a hangover for the feasting of others

But the main question that arises for managers and tenants of shopping centres of the republic is why they have been appointed to pay for the low rates of vaccination in the republic? After all, they have vaccinated their staff (for example, in GorkiPark shopping centre, more than 80% of employees have been vaccinated), regularly disinfect surfaces, monitor the presence of masks and instructed tenants to comply with the norms for the number of people who are in the room at the same time. Olesya Rybakova says:

“Everyone thinks that we are against the health of citizens. Nothing of that kind! We clean every hour, organise both the order and the distance. We have vaccinated our employees and tenants. Saying now that the shopping centre is a source of increased danger is a huge misconception. If we proceed even from the peak load of shopping centres, it turns out that we have one visitor per 28 square metres of area. Meanwhile, look at what is happening in transport now. What is going on in the Multifunctional Public Services Centres or in polyclinics — there are incredible queues. Well, the low rate of vaccination is not a question to us. The state has not coped with the promotion of vaccination, people do not want to be vaccinated, but how this concerns us? The problem is not created for the population, but for us. The majority of the population can switch to delivery.”

Elena Stryukova recalls that a few days after the decree on the QR-codification of the republic, a new decree was issued — on mandatory vaccination of certain groups of citizens, under which most of the able-bodied Tatarstan citizens fall. She has the question:

“Wouldn't it be better to start with this resolution, and only then introduce restrictions? After all, now a person is running to get vaccinated not because they can't go to a restaurant or go to a shopping centre. But because they have jobs, and they have a risk of being left without a salary for an indefinite period.”

Modern shopping malls are much safer for customers to visit than most public places and especially public transport, Mityunin points out. Photo: Ilya Repin

Oleg Mityunin also points out the same thing: in his opinion, it was really necessary to start with mandatory vaccination. And if that didn't help, then try other ways of restrictions. At the same time, he draws attention to that modern ventilation systems, disinfection, and measures taken to delimit the flow of visitors make modern shopping centres much safer for customers to visit than most public places, especially public transport.

And another question is how quickly everything was done. Stryukova cites Bashkiria as an example, where the decree on the introduction of QR codes was issued 2 weeks before the “hour X”:

“We have three shopping centres in management there. In 2 weeks, we at least managed to do something: to issue an additional agreement with the PSC, notify the tenants. We understand the complexity of the epidemiological situation, comply with all measures and regulations. We are not against these measures, we see everything and understand the situation, but why not treat business in a human way? Let's take at least a meeting: it was held with us on Friday at 4 p.m. We had two weekend days to oblige the PSC to purchase reader devices, force them to check identity cards, open additional entrances to all tenants... why couldn't this meeting have been held earlier? Not even on Friday, when 5 days have already passed in absolute chaos, but earlier…"

“We are trying to reach the authorities”

No measures to support shopping centres were announced at the meeting. The representatives of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and officials from the Ministry of Industry and Trade were silent. Meanwhile, Olesya Rybakova says:

“The incidence is increasing, but for some reason it is we, entrepreneurs who pay taxes, who are again in the weakest situation. Last year, during the lockdown, we asked Tatenergo to postpone payments, we were informed that an emergency had not been introduced, and therefore there would be no delay... Why then, at least now, don't the authorities compensate for our losses? At least the payment of housing and communal services. We are just standing idle now: the shopping centre is serviced, the lights are on, there is heat, the escalators are working, but the galleries are empty. We cannot go to the bank and ask for a loan restructuring — they will answer us: “You are not closed, there is no emergency.” If the authorities want to solve their problems at the expense of shopping centres, let them compensate us for our costs. I'm not even talking about that we didn't hear the answers at Friday's meeting. What we heard at the conference was just reading out the points of the provision. I personally wrote to the chat for a long time to get the floor on the district shopping centres. They didn't raise this question—perhaps, because there was nothing to answer. No one is going to listen to us. But we want to be heard. We have already written a letter to the president. We are ready to gather a delegation of several representatives of shopping centres, come to Rustam Nurgalievich Minnikhanov and make suggestions. We are ready to cooperate! It is necessary to discuss the situation so that there is no such arm twisting.”

According to our interlocutor, Lyubov Avdonina almost directly said that now the task is to motivate citizens as much as possible so that they agree to get vaccinated. Photo: Maksim Platonov

Oleg Mityunin also states that there is no support, and the demands are increasing:

“Now no promises of support have been made for us. We understand that there will be no support. Moreover, everything is being done at our expense to limit our own business. We are being forced to put a garrote around our neck strangle our business with our own hands. While we are trying to reach the authorities, so that they will also hear us, do not demand the impossible from us, do not strangle us with inspections. We are fulfilling all requirements because we understand everything. But we cannot be asked to do the impossible (take the same identity check). We are simply asking for a more rational approach to everything: for example, to review the timing and stages of these restrictions, to clarify everything. We submitted a letter to the president, the result was the Friday meeting. But all we heard on it was the retelling of the decree. No specific answer was given to any of our questions. This was the main characteristic of the meeting: any question was answered as vaguely as possible.”

An anonymous source from those who attended the meeting informs Realnoe Vremya: the main conclusion that could be drawn from all of the above is that the state has failed with vaccination, and businesses are suffering from this. According to our interlocutor, Lyubov Avdonina, who attended the meeting from Rospotrebnadzor, almost directly said that now the task is to motivate citizens as much as possible so that they agree to get vaccinated.

But the representatives of shopping centres ask: who will think about them?

Lyudmila Gubaeva
Tatarstan