Tightened distancing rules throw off wedding plans, social gatherings in greater Seoul

SEOUL, The tightened social distancing guidelines placed on the greater Seoul region have left ordinary South Koreans flummoxed over how to proceed with important social plans, such as weddings or first-birthday banquets, which often require minimum reservations in the scale of hundreds with harsh refund penalties.
Amid the new wave of COVID-19 outbreaks in and around Seoul, the country placed the capital and the nearby Gyeonggi and Incheon areas under the Level 2 social distancing scheme, up one notch from the previous level, over the weekend.
Under the stricter guidelines, indoor gatherings of 50 or more people and outdoor events of 100 or more people are prohibited, and citizens are advised to stay at home, except for necessary occasions, at least for two weeks. Those in violation could be fined up to 3 million won (US$2,540) and charged for quarantine and medical costs if found responsible for transmissions.
Online communities on the topics of wedding preparations and child care have since been flooded with complaints and queries on how to deal with the virtual ban on large gatherings in and around Seoul.
The common underlying grievance is centered on the catering industry’s practice of requiring minimum reservations of around 200 to 300 people, as well as steep penalties even if events are canceled long before the agreed-upon dates.
“Those of you who have gone through such events well know that the hosts are burdened with the cost of catering for hundreds of people, or face penalties of up to several millions of won,” wrote one netizen, who said her sister had a wedding scheduled for September, on a child care community on Naver.
Another member of a large wedding community on Naver, who said she had a wedding planned for September, wrote, “I wish the government could help us either change the date or exempt us from penalties, but apparently there isn’t any action as of now.”
Many first-birthday parties for babies and 60th or 70th birthday celebrations among seniors, traditionally held on a large scale with guests outside of the family, are also being scaled back in size or rescheduled at the cost of strong penalties.
“Our family was planning to celebrate our mother’s centennial birthday later this month, but we’ll have to suspend it for a later date,” said Lee Myung-soon, 73, in Seoul.
An online petition has also appeared on the presidential website, demanding the government rein in the catering industry’s harsh refund-cancellation policy. Over 33,000 have signed the petition as of Wednesday morning.
“The government has distributed discount coupons for restaurants and cinemas. Why do couples making preparations for marriage have to face mental and financial damage due to the irresponsible policy by the government,” the petitioner wrote.
In light of growing complaints, the Fair Trade Commission (FTC), the country’s anti-trust watch dog, has asked the Association of Wedding Industry to allow customers to reschedule weddings to later dates without penalties.
“Companies may allow postponements of weddings or revise the number of minimum guests,” a FTC official said. The official explained that responses may vary from company to company.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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