SEOUL • South Koreans are buying more gold and ready-to-eat meals, while the government plans to expand nationwide civil defence drills planned for this month as rhetoric between North Korea and the United States ramps up tension.
Long used to living within the range of North Korea's artillery, people in the South have generally ignored its aggressiveness and nuclear and long-range missile tests.
But last week, as Pyongyang traded increasingly angry words with the US, there are worries of a clash along the heavily militarised frontier dividing the two Koreas.
Combat Ration Inc, which makes two billion won (S$2.4 million) in annual revenue selling ready-to-eat meals, said sales had surged by as much as 50 per cent over the average in the past week.
"Since 2006, when North Korea first conducted its nuclear test, there wasn't this much response as people became immune to frequent missile launches and nuclear tests," said Mr Yoon Hee Yeul, the chief executive of Combat Ration, based in the south-eastern city of Daegu.
Ready-to-eat meals maker Babmart, based in eastern Seoul, and another Seoul-based online seller, jun2food.com, also said sales have increased. Officials at both companies attributed the surge to the heightened tension.
"Koreans used to be numb to North Korea's threats. However, it seems different this time, and people are taking it seriously," said Mr Song Jong Gil, an official of Korea Gold Exchange 3M, where sales of mini gold bars have surged fivefold since last Wednesday.
After US President Donald Trump's "fire and fury" threat heightened tension, average daily sales volume has been 250 bars, ranging in weight between 10g and 100g, versus about 50 bars earlier, Mr Song said, adding the trend would continue through this month.
Experts say if North Korea did launch intermediate-range missiles towards Guam, all its other missiles and artillery would be ready for action. At least 1,000 of the North's artillery pieces can reach Seoul and its metropolitan area, home to some 25 million people.