Restaurant owners mull closing before dinnertime as gov’t enforces semi-lockdown for 2 weeks

SEOUL-- Owners of mom-and-pop restaurants and cafes in the greater Seoul area are considering scaling back operating hours for two weeks, as the country went into a semi-lockdown Monday and most people are expected to cancel dinner appointments and stay at home.

The government imposed the most stringent social distancing rules in the area, effective until July 25, since coronavirus cases have been surging to record levels, with a majority of the cases breaking out in the capital and its surrounding region.

Gatherings of three people or more in restaurants and cafes are banned after 6 p.m., and most public and private companies ordered their employees to work from home to bring the rapid spread of the coronavirus under control.

Some restaurant owners told Yonhap News Agency that they were considering forgoing dinner business all together for two weeks in a desperate effort to reduce expenses, such as labor costs.

Lee Seung-kwan, who runs a Chinese restaurant in Gwangjin Ward, said, "I am not sure if I can keep my restaurant open at night for the whole two weeks. I might just shut it down after trying for about a week."

Many office workers said they had already canceled dinner appointments and would stay at home during most of the semi-lockdown period.

"I don't even go out to smoke any more, as infection cases have surged in Yeouido," a 30-year-old office worker at a securities firm said. Yeouido is a financial district in western Seoul. "I will work from home starting tomorrow, and I won't venture out."

Another office worker, surnamed Park, said, "I was ordered to switch all my pre-scheduled meetings to virtual ones or do them via phone calls ... I even postponed meeting my girlfriend to after two weeks."

"I was planning to visit my parents in Gyeongsang Province this weekend, but my parents told me not to," said Lee Eun-young, who lives in the northern ward of Eunpyeong. "I will stay at home for the time being."

Earlier in the day, a majority of restaurants located inside Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market, the capital city's biggest marine products market, said they will close for the time being.

Nineteen out of the total 23 restaurants will temporarily close starting Monday, in what is widely viewed as a protest against the strong social distancing measures that will inevitably bring financial damage to small businesses and the rent policy of the landlord, the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives.

They said the limit on gatherings of more than three people is tantamount to an order to close their businesses and that the state agency should adopt a more generous rent policy amid pandemic-related restrictions for businesses.

Source: Yonhap News Agency