A new round of social distancing rules yesterday took effect in the South Korean capital, Seoul, dealing a blow to small businesses, despite brighter hopes for economic recovery after earlier success in battling COVID-19.
The measures range from closures of nightclubs and karaoke bars and curbs on eating in cafes and restaurants to fewer nighttime public transit services and limits on religious services, weddings and funerals for the next two weeks.
“I feel like I am left alone in the dark,” said Jung Gong-dan, who runs a pub near the capital’s Itaewon District, saying she has lost hope after a ban on dining in restaurants after 9pm.
The “emergency pause” in activity in the densely populated capital and surrounding areas aims to damp a resurgence in outbreaks in offices, schools and small gatherings that have combined to drive a third wave of infections.
Asia’s fourth-largest economy returned to growth in the third quarter, reversing its sharpest contraction in more than a decade, as the government pushed through stimulus measures, and major trading partners eased virus curbs.
The benchmark KOSPI hit its all-time high yesterday, for a dramatic gain of 83 percent from its low soon after the pandemic hit in late March, as authorities cut interest rates and poured money into the financial system.
However, the revival of financial asset prices has shown little spillover into the real economy, as owners of small businesses and street shops shut down in the face of the new restrictions.
“I’m planning to launch a takeout wine sale with discounts, which is the only way to head off a cash crunch, given revenue drops throughout the year,” said a wine bar owner, who runs two stores in downtown Seoul.
The owner, who asked to be identified only by her surname, Kim, said she had bought supplies worth 10 million won (US$9,011) in expectation of a surge in year-end reservations.
The usual bustling activity and long lines in many of Seoul’s shopping streets and nightlife areas was missing on Monday evening.
Without government help, it would almost be easier to shut permanently than try to stay open under the new curbs, after large losses incurred in the year’s earlier outbreaks, Jung said.
“I hope the government will provide practical measures to help us, because constantly suspending night operations virtually means no business,” she added.
The government has yet to propose a new round of stimulus measures, but yesterday the main opposition party called for billions of US dollars to be diverted from next year’s budget proposal as subsidies.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in apologized for having to restrengthen distancing measures, but said “there is no other path” to sever infection links and prevent greater hardship.
Health authorities have warned that the current wave of infections might be harder to limit than before, as most occurred in the wider general community around Seoul.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 349 cases, as the daily tally ticked up again after a slight drop reflecting fewer weekend tests.
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