S. Korea eases virus curbs to soothe small businesses' pain


SEOUL • 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 tomorrow, South Korea will apply level 2 social distancing rules for the capital Seoul and its 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, 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 the 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 gatherings of five people or more will be banned across the entire country, he said.

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

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

The South Korean authorities imposed level 2.5 social distancing norms in early December.

Last week, it slightly lowered the rules for the areas outside Seoul as virus cases dropped to around 300 to 400 per day, compared with 1,000 in late December, but kept the rules for the capital.

The country as a whole has seen 83,199 infections so far, with 1,514 deaths.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 14, 2021, with the headline S. Korea eases virus curbs to soothe small businesses' pain. Subscribe