South Korea’s small companies have been hit by Reuters’ new virus combat

From Hyonhee Shin and Soohyun Mah

SEOUL (Reuters) – A new round of social distancing rules went into effect in South Korea’s capital Seoul on Tuesday, which dealt a blow to small business owners despite higher hopes for economic recovery after previous successes in fighting the coronavirus.

Measures range from closing nightclubs and karaoke bars to restricting food in cafes and restaurants to less nightly public transport and restrictions on church services, weddings and funerals for the next two weeks.

“I feel alone in the dark,” said Jung Gong-dan, who runs a pub near the Itaewon neighborhood, and said she lost hope after a ban on eating in restaurants after 9pm

The “emergency break” in the densely populated capital and surrounding areas is aimed at dampening the resurgence of outbreaks in offices, schools and small gatherings that collectively sparked a third wave of infections.

Asia’s fourth-largest economy returned to growth in the third quarter and reversed its steepest decline in more than a decade as the government launched stimulus measures and key trading partners eased virus containment.

The benchmark index hit its all-time high on Tuesday, posting a dramatic 83% gain from the 2020 low shortly after the pandemic in late March, when authorities cut interest rates and money poured into the financial system.

However, the revival in financial asset prices has had little impact on the real economy as small business and street store owners have closed in the face of the new restrictions.

“I plan to start a take-away wine sale with discounts. This is the only way I can avoid a financial crisis as revenues decline as the year goes on,” said a wine bar owner who runs two stores in downtown Seoul.

The owner, who wanted to be identified by her last name only, Kim, said she bought 10 million won ($ 9,000) supplies of supplies at the end of the year in anticipation of a surge in reservations.

CALLS FOR GOVERNMENT AID

The usual busy activities and long queues in many of Seoul’s shopping streets and nightlife areas were absent on Monday evening.

Without government help, Jung, the pub owner, said it would be almost easier to close permanently than trying to stay open under the new curbs after huge losses were incurred in the year’s eruptions.

“I hope the government will take practical steps to help us because stopping night operations means practically nothing,” she added.

The government has yet to propose a new round of stimulus measures, but on Tuesday the main opposition party called for billions of dollars to be diverted from next year’s budget proposal as subsidies for those affected by the pandemic.

Health officials have warned that the current wave of infections may be harder to contain than it was before, like most in the wider Seoul community.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 349 cases as the daily balance rose again after a slight decrease due to fewer weekend tests.

The total number of infections is 31,353 with 510 deaths.

Young people expressed frustration and disappointment with the latest rules, but many supported stronger measures.

“It’s suffocating and so sad that we have to take the risk of just going outside and meeting someone, but it’s the right thing and hopefully we can get back to normal soon,” college student Shin Jong-hyun 29 said.

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