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Music industry calls for more equitable social distancing guidelines

K-pop boy band BTS performs at an online concert, Sunday. (Big Hit Music)
K-pop boy band BTS performs at an online concert, Sunday. (Big Hit Music)
While the government on Monday unveiled a draft version of its road map for “living with COVID-19,” raising hopes of a gradual return to normal, the music industry is accusing it of bias against the sector and is calling for changes.

Several music industry organizations -- the Korea Entertainment Producers’ Association, Korea Management Federation, Korean Singers Association, Recording Industry Association of Korea, Korea Music Content Association, Korea Music Copyright Association and others -- announced Wednesday that they were appealing to the government to come up with more equitable social distancing measures.

According to the road map, because the country’s vaccination rate has surpassed 70 percent, most current restrictions will be lifted in phases through the end of January, putting an end to nighttime curfews on cafes, restaurants and other facilities where people gather.

Performing arts halls and movie theaters will be allowed to stay open until midnight instead of the current 10 p.m.

Under the current distancing guidelines, which limit arts performances to theaters and halls authorized for cultural events, major K-pop concerts -- typically held at sports arenas or stadiums -- cannot take place.

Starting Nov. 1, up to 100 people will be allowed at concerts regardless of their vaccination status. Up to 500 people can attend if they are all vaccinated.

Starting Dec. 13, there will be no limits on audience numbers if everyone is fully vaccinated. All restrictions on concerts will be lifted Jan. 24.

Though the cultural sector as a whole may be celebrating, the music industry says it cannot join in the festive atmosphere.

“We have to wait for the government to announce the final road map on Friday, but the draft revision sounds more complicated and complex than the Level 3 distancing rules that are in place in many parts of the country,” a music industry insider said.

Kim Myung-soo, director of the Korea Entertainment Producers’ Association, expressed disappointment with the draft plan.

“Though the government previously allowed concerts to be held with a 4,000 cap during the Level 3 distancing rules in June, I am not sure where the numbers 100 and 500 in the first step to ‘living with COVID-19’ scheme came from,” Kim told The Korea Herald.

“I can’t understand why the sports teams are permitted to accept fans at a maximum of 30 percent of stadium capacity, while concerts are allowed to have a maximum of 500 in the same stadium. The new measures are difficult to comprehend in many ways,” the director added.

Kim said the music industry had made its utmost efforts to cooperate with the government in observing the distancing measures, postponing long-awaited concerts.

“I am disappointed that the draft version of the road map sounds like the government is blaming K-pop concerts for the ongoing fourth wave of infections, while praising the cultural influence of K-pop idol groups. I remember when the government was promoting Korea’s response to COVID-19. I hope they will help us have successful large-scale events and promote them around the world along with the globally recognized K-pop,” Kim said.

An official from an entertainment agency said it too was experiencing a unique situation, in that it has to consider carefully whether to share good news with fans.

“The agency became somewhat reluctant to announce that our artist’s hybrid online-offline fan meeting has sold out, because so many people are worried about in-person events,” the official said.

“I think this is similar to concerts. Because there are so many things to consider, including the distancing guidelines, entertainment agencies are worried about announcing or even planning offline events. This may become a serious issue if continued,” he added.

While many K-pop fans are teenagers, who have only recently started to get vaccinated, the government’s upcoming “vaccine pass” system, requiring a vaccination certificate to enter facilities where many people gather, may raise questions about the fairness of the distancing guidelines and policies, another official from a management agency said.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on Sunday K-pop superband BTS held its first global online concert in about a year. The boy band is scheduled to go on tour and perform live in Los Angeles in November and December.

By Lee Si-jin (sj_lee@heraldcorp.com)
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