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Gangwon wages war against pool parties

This photo, provided by the Gangneung city government, shows the scene of a pool party at a hotel in Gangneung on Saturday. (Gangneung city government)
This photo, provided by the Gangneung city government, shows the scene of a pool party at a hotel in Gangneung on Saturday. (Gangneung city government)
The provincial government of Gangwon began a major crackdown on COVID-19 rule violations in hotels and guesthouses on the eastern coast Tuesday, as young people flock to pool parties and other gatherings over the peak summer holiday season.

The biggest hotel in northern Gangneung has been suspended for 10 days from Sunday, after authorities walked in on a pool party attended by dozens of people Saturday night.

Gangneung Mayor Kim Han-geun said in a CBS radio interview Tuesday morning that the hotel went ahead with its pool party despite having told the authorities earlier that it would cancel the plan.

Upon receiving a report that the hotel was promoting “performances” at its pool via social media, Gangneung city officials visited the hotel twice to warn them of an administrative order banning parties and other events hosted by hotels.

The hotel had been planning to shoot fireworks from a cruise ship nearby and have a rooftop pool party.

City officials, along with the police, walked in on the pool party Saturday night, upon receiving reports, to find dozens of people unmasked, violating social distancing rules.

Gangneung Mayor Kim said police will go through the list of hotel guests, and take legal steps accordingly.

The city is currently inspecting hotels and guesthouses until midnight.

Photos of largely unmasked people in a pool party in Yangyang, just north of Gangneung, were shared in an online community last week, arousing anger at the violators amid rising COVID-19 infections and tightened social distancing measures.

As Gangneung and Yangyang raised their social distancing rules to Level 4 for a while last month, vacationers headed to Gangwon’s northernmost county of Goseong, which had less strict rules.

Visitors to Goseong have surged by 20-fold from 2020 to over 1.19 million people so far this year.

Of the six cities and counties in the province, Goseong had the least number of COVID-19 cases, and has the most beaches -- 34 percent of all beaches in Gangwon.

As more people are looking to learn water sports and enjoy their summer holiday, a number of guesthouses in Gangneung, Yangyang and Jeju are selling packages combining surfing lessons with accommodation, “after dinner pub parties” and barbecue dinners” where guests meet each other, eat and drink alcohol.

As the country has seen more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases a day since July 7, the Seoul metropolitan area has been placed under the toughest Level 4 social distancing measures and the most of rest of the country under the next highest Level 3.

Under Level 3, karaoke bars and other nightlife establishments must close after 10 p.m. and all private gatherings of more than four people are prohibited.

Violations, however, are not hard to find.

In Busan, a karaoke bar that was caught doing business after 10 p.m. by the police went on with the illegal operation, with doors locked, until it was caught again five days later on Friday, saying it would rather be fined than not open, according to Yonhap News.

In Jeju, with gatherings banned in nightlife establishments, 12 restaurants were caught violating the rules last month, two of which illegally hired people to entertain their customers.

Overnight binges on beaches also continue.

The city of Jeju closed a plaza and banned nighttime drinking and eating on Iho Tewoo beach as part of its disease prevention measures, only to find young people flocking to Hamdeok and Woljeong beaches around 10 p.m., drinking and violating rules that ban gatherings of more than six people.

In North Chungcheong Province, drinking on tables outside convenience stores or benches is commonplace throughout the week, according to Yonhap.

In a residential area in Cheongju, North Chungcheong, last Thursday, four people at an outdoor table outside a convenience store poured beer into empty coffee bottles, asking city officials on inspection “isn’t coffee okay?”

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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