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Weddings again under threat as ‘unfair’ Level 4 rules allow only up to 49 guests

Couples face losses as virus rules criticized for inconsistency

Seats are left empty inside a wedding banquet hall. (123rf)
Seats are left empty inside a wedding banquet hall. (123rf)
Wedding ceremonies in South Korea face another round of cancellations and disappointment, as restrictive virus rules limit the number of guests and force organizers to pivot from their game plans.

At the moment, Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province are under Level 4 social distancing rules, limiting the number of guests at weddings there to 49. The rule is not likely to be relaxed anytime soon, which has drawn immense anger from to-be-married couples and wedding venues alike.

Officials and experts have estimated the worst may be yet to come, with some speculating the current rules will remain in place at least until the end of the Chuseok holiday period in late September.

With little chance of rules being relaxed in sight, some couples have been postponing their weddings, while others have no choice but to hold their ceremonies as scheduled with empty seats, incurring financial damages from the still-running buffets and expecting to spend more.

The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family recently said it has been receiving an increasing number of complaints about weddings being unfairly restricted since the Level 4 rules came into effect.

Guests typically give an amount of congratulatory money for couples at their weddings and dine at a buffet prepared at the wedding venue.

But as the number of guests has been limited, newlyweds can expect to receive less in congratulatory funds under Level 4 rules, and many of them will still be obliged to pay for the buffet as contracted months earlier while preparing for the wedding.

“I have prepared for this wedding for more than a full year, but holding a wedding during COVID-19 cannot be celebrated and is even criticized as a greed of to-be-married couples,” a post read on the Blue House open petition website, garnering 2,666 signatures as of 10 a.m. Tuesday.

“To-be-married couples have closely followed social distancing rules and measures in place, hiding our worries in trust of the government. But I write here today as I can no longer bear these unfair measures from the government and unacceptable behaviors from some wedding venues.”

Couples that have waited for months to stand in the spotlight dressed in tuxedos and dresses in front of their loved ones have called the limit on number of guests unfair, as restrictions for weddings are much stricter than those for performances and religious activities.

Even under Level 4 rules, performances at arts centers can hold audiences of up to 5,000 people, and religious services can house up to 99 participants at a time.

Accordingly, wedding halls and other places that rent out their facilities for weddings are expected to endure financial hits, as fewer people will be inclined to reserve their spots when holding a wedding ceremony is likely more of a financial burden than before.

Couples have also incurred damages from conflicts with their wedding venues, the petitioner wrote. The Fair Trade Commission asks wedding venues to allow customers to make changes to their plans and contracts without fees under Level 4 rules. 

But as the recommendation has no authoritative power by law, couples have still been forced to pay fees as contracted to their wedding venues, the petition said.

Such contracts are usually finalized a month before the scheduled wedding date, but changes to social distancing rules are announced every two weeks, which could force couples into unsolvable financial difficulties.

The events have recurred due to the government’s flip-flopping on social distancing rules throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with couples losing out on opportunities to make the most out of what could be one of the most important events of their lives, and wedding venues facing declining revenue.

It has also been pointed out that the government has not been consistent with applying social distancing rules, often swaying to relax rules for certain groups after series of protests and criticism.

In light of such problems, the Family Ministry on Thursday entered negotiations with virus officials to relax the cap on guests for weddings. If successful, adjusted rules on weddings could be announced by Sunday, which is when the current rules are scheduled to end.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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