The Korea Herald


Coffee shops play top health official’s audio message for indoor mask mandate

By Park Han-na

Published : Dec. 13, 2021 - 18:18

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Customers wait for their beverage at a Starbucks store in Seoul. (Yonhap) Customers wait for their beverage at a Starbucks store in Seoul. (Yonhap)

With daily COVID-19 caseload hitting new records, some 8,000 coffee chain shops and restaurants here are playing in-store audio announcements from one of the top public health officials recommending indoor masking.

“Hello. This is the Minister of Food and Drug Safety Kim Gang-lip. Please remind yourself to wear a mask before and after eating or drinking and while talking,” the voice announcement rang out, interspersed every 30 minutes between Christmas jazz licks played at a Starbucks shop near Konkuk University in Seoul.

The announcements are part of an antivirus campaign carried out by the ministry as daily caseloads have been spiking since the “living with COVID-19” scheme started from Nov. 1.

Along with Starbucks, which operates some 1,600 stores here, Ediya Coffee, A Twosome Place, Tom N Toms and Caffe Pascucci have joined the campaign.

Currently, anyone who violates the administrative order for mandatory mask wearing is subject to a fine of up to 3 million won ($2,550).

The ministry plans to expand the number of restaurants and coffeehouses, depending on the willingness of stores to join the audio campaign.

The campaign has received mixed reactions from cafegoers.

“I visited a cafe to feel the warm and relaxing ambiance with Christmas carols, but the announcement made me a little uncomfortable, self-conscious,” a 34-year-old office worker surnamed Kim said.

A twitter user pointed out that many coffeehouse customers are defying mask rules while chatting, although they acknowledge it could pose a risk for COVID-19 infection. “If I were a cafe owner, I would turn the announcement message on. People keep talking with their masks off.”

Starting Monday, the government expanded the vaccine pass system to include restaurants, cafes and movie theaters. Under the rule, all individuals must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry.