Coronavirus: South Korea to ease social distancing to help small business

Starting Feb 15, South Korea will apply level 2 social distancing rules for Seoul and surrounding Gyeonggi province.
Starting Feb 15, South Korea will apply level 2 social distancing rules for Seoul and surrounding Gyeonggi province.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - South Korea is relaxing its social distancing rules, allowing nightclubs to reopen and extending the operating hours of other businesses in an effort to ease the struggle of mom-and-pop stores.

Starting Monday (Feb 15) , South Korea will apply level 2 social distancing rules for Seoul and surrounding Gyeonggi province, a half notch lower from the previous 2.5 level, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said at a briefing.

For the rest of the country, the level 1.5 social distancing rules will be applied, also a half notch lower.

"We took people's fatigue into consideration," the prime minister said. "We are relaxing the rules for small businesses and self-employed."

The adjustment will allow restaurants, coffee shops and gyms in Seoul and its metropolitan area to remain open until 10pm, instead of 9pm.

Outside Gyeonggi, those types of businesses will be allowed to operate all day, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said in a statement.

Nightclubs, karaoke facilities and other late-night entertainment bars such as room salons, which had been shut down since Nov 24, will be permitted to reopen as long as they stick to rules, such as mask-wearing and closing at 10pm.

After-school private academies, libraries, movie theatres and other types of businesses will no longer have restrictions on their hours of operation, the government said.

The third wave of Covid-19 still remains a concern, the prime minister added. Even with the adjustment, social gathering of a group of five people or more will be banned in the entire country, he said.

The eased social distancing rules will be reviewed after two weeks.

The move comes as Seoul and its metropolitan area reports 282 daily cases of coronavirus on average during the week of Feb 7-13, while the rest of the country sees 72 daily cases during the same week.

South Korean authorities imposed level 2.5 social distancing in early December. Last week, it slightly lowered the rules for the areas outside Seoul as the virus cases dropped to around 300 to 400, compared with 1,000 in late December, but kept the rules for the capital.