The Korea Herald


Restaurant, bar owners fear dark days ahead

By Lee Si-jin

Published : July 9, 2021 - 17:59

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A restaurant in Gwanak-gu, southern Seoul, appears empty. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald) A restaurant in Gwanak-gu, southern Seoul, appears empty. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)

As South Korea readies to go into a near-lockdown bracing for its worst wave yet of COVID-19 to hit, owners of restaurants, bars and other nightlife establishments are expressing worries over their chances of survival.

“I heard from the news that Level 4 guidelines were under consideration two or three days ago, but I am shocked that this is really happening,” a 53-year-old Korean barbecue restaurant owner surnamed Lee in Gwanak-gu, southern Seoul, told The Korea Herald.

“I am really worried for the next two weeks,” she added.

Under the Level 4 virus curb rules, to take effect from Monday, no more than two people can have private gatherings after 6 p.m.

Under the current Level 2 rules in the four-tier social distancing regime, restaurants have been allowed to have dine-in customers until 10 p.m., and the maximum number of people that can have a meal together at a restaurant is four.

Lee said that while many restaurants have shifted to delivery services, she and her husband, being slow to change their ways, could not.

“When dining in is restricted, we will face a tougher challenge,” she said.

Choi Hyun-chul, who owns two bean sprout soup restaurants in Seoul, said his shops were already down to 60 percent of business as usual pre-pandemic, and now he expects business to dip further.

“This week, as the daily caseloads started registering at over 1,000, I could literally feel the impact. The revenue was down 20-30 percent at least in the past few days,” he said.

Since he had already let go of nearly half of his staff, he plans to weather the coming crisis without firing anyone, he said. “All of my employees agreed to reduce work hours so that no one has to lose their job. But I don’t know how long this could go on like this.”

Expected to take the strongest hit are nightlife establishments. Nightclubs, certain types of pubs and bars will all be ordered to shut down.

A pub owner in Seoul’s hip district of Hongdae in western Seoul who wished to remain anonymous said he understood the need for tougher measures, but called for a realistic and efficient approach.

“I remember we had the second COVID-19 wave about the same period last year with the outbreak in Itaewon. A year later, we are entering the fourth wave,” the pub owner said.

While many measures were introduced to businesses in Hongdae and Itaewon, both known for nightlife, there were also many loopholes.

“So many people gather around and drink at places like Han River parks, so I am unsure if the number and time restrictions are really working.”

Kim, another pub owner in trendy university district Sinchon who is in his 30s, expressed hope that the government’s measures work well. “Following the new guideline is of the utmost importance, and I hope the most stringent measures can work effectively to put an end to this situation.”

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum, presiding over the national COVID-19 response meeting on Friday, said he felt sorry for the pain the new antivirus measures would cause to small merchants and the self-employed.

“Although it would be difficult to compensate for all the damages, the government will make utmost efforts to provide what’s possible in accordance with the related law,” he said.

The National Assembly on July 1 passed a bill intended to compensate business losses and damages caused by government-imposed antivirus restrictions.