South Korea: Businesses Light Up Shops All Night to Protest Virus Curfew

Several small business owners in the South Korean national capital of Seoul left their shop lights on all night on Thursday to protest a state-mandated coronavirus curfew ordering small businesses nationwide, such as cafes and restaurants, to close by 9:00 p.m. each night, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported Friday.

“Small bistros lining the Baekhack traditional marketplace in central Seoul, and restaurants and food vendors on a food street near Gocheok Sky Dome in western Seoul were among the participants in the so-called lighting protest,” Yonhap observed of the demonstration.

The collective light display lasted from 9:01 p.m. on January 6 through the early morning hours of January 7.

“Protesting business owners did not accept customers after the 9 p.m. curfew but left their empty stores and neon signs ablaze with light well past midnight,” Yonhap noted.

“This is an expression of our will and wish to stay open and do business,” Cho Ji-hyun told Yonhap on January 7.

Cho represents an emergency association of small businesses in South Korea negatively impacted by the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. She said the coronavirus curfew “as well as the vaccine pass program in place are putting the burden of virus prevention on small business owners.” Cho called on South Korea’s federal government to “withdraw” or “revise” the current coronavirus-related restrictions on small businesses in the national capital and nationwide.

A staff member (R) wearing protective equipment guides a traveller at the arrival hall of Incheon International Airport on November 30, 2021, amid growing concerns about the Omicron Covid-19 variant. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

A staff member wearing protective equipment guides a traveler at the arrival hall of Incheon International Airport on November 30, 2021, amid growing concerns about the Omicron Covid-19 variant. (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

Cho’s association — officially named the “National Emergency Association of Small Business Against COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus]” — warned on January 7 it would seek “stronger collective action” if Seoul chooses to further extend the current business limitations. About 300 members of the association protested the small business curfew in an authorized rally in central Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square on December 22, 2021.

The coronavirus-related restrictions currently in place across South Korea came into effect on December 18, 2021, and were originally slated to last through January 2, 2022. Seoul on December 31, 2021, announced it would extend the “social distancing” measures — which also limit the number of patrons allowed to frequent shops and restaurants to just four “fully vaccinated” people at a time — through at least January 16. The restrictions also apply to private gatherings in South Korea. According to the strict mandate, private gatherings may include no more than four people, all of whom must have received a full series of a Chinese coronavirus vaccination.

South Korea’s federal government imposed a coronavirus “vaccine passport” system on its citizens on December 13, 2021. The system requires “all visitors to cafes and restaurants to present a certificate proving they have completed their COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] vaccination or tested negative,” according to Yonhap.

“Businesses can be fined 1.5 million won (US$1,270) or suspended from operating for 10 days if they fail to abide by the vaccine pass system,” the news agency reported. “Individual violators can face a fine of 100,000 won each time they violate the system.”

The South Korean federal government extended this “vaccine passport” system to large department stores on January 10, 2022.

“Starting from Jan. 10, those without the proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] test result cannot shop at big box and department stores measuring 3,000 square meters or more,” the Korea Heraldnoted in an editorial critical of the new system on January 5.

“Even those who want to shop alone to buy groceries cannot access over 2,000 discount and department stores under the revised rules,” according to the newspaper.

Gabrielle Reyes