|Cafe workers in Daegu spray disinfectant and organize chairs and tables, Sunday, as cafes are allowed to offer dine-in services beginning from Monday, after the government decided to ease restrictions on businesses hit by COVID-19. / Yonhap|
By Jun Ji-hye
People will be able to drink coffee inside cafes, beginning Monday, after the government, which had banned coffee shops from offering dine-in services as part of measures to stem the spread of COVID-19, decided to ease restrictions on virus-hit businesses.
Health ministry officials said Sunday that like restaurants, cafes will be allowed to offer dine-in services until 9 p.m.
The government has so far allowed coffee shops to serve only takeout and delivery, causing protests from owners who claimed that the antivirus measures have been applied "unfairly" between businesses.
Churches will be allowed to hold in-person services on the condition of only allowing congregants up to 10 percent capacity in the Seoul metropolitan area, which includes Incheon and Gyeonggi Province, and up to 20 percent capacity in the rest of the country.
Indoor gyms, cram schools and karaoke establishments in the Seoul metropolitan area will be allowed to resume operations on the condition of a maximum capacity of one person per eight square meters.
The government adjusted detailed antivirus guidelines applied to businesses, while extending the current Level 2.5 social distancing measures ― the second-highest in its five-tier system ― for the Seoul metropolitan area, and Level 2 for other parts of the country by two weeks until Jan. 31.
The government has also decided to maintain the ban on private gatherings of five or more people and the restriction on business operations after 9 p.m.
"We are aware that the latest adjustment of the antivirus guidelines may be not enough to lessen the difficulties facing small business owners, but we want to ask citizens to join forces for about one more month to restore hope," Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Saturday after a government meeting on its COVID-19 response. "Vaccines and treatments that are scheduled to be introduced next month will back up our antivirus efforts."
The government's decision to extend its current distancing level and adjust detailed guidelines came as the country's daily new virus cases have remained in the 500s in recent days, without showing particular signs of a slowdown.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), the country added 520 more infections for Saturday including 500 locally transmitted cases, raising the total caseload to 72,340.
The government's adjustment of the guidelines, however, has received mixed reactions from businesses ― cafe owners welcomed the decision, while bar owners complained.
"I am glad the government eased restrictions on cafes. I have suffered more than a 70 percent fall in my sales while the ban has been in place on cafes from offering dine-in service," said Kim Ji-min, who runs a coffee shop in Seoul's Jungnang District.
For their part, bar owners expressed their disappointment as they had expected the government to ease the restrictions that forced bars to close after 9 p.m. They said such restrictions are excessive as they are late-night businesses.
The government's decision to ease the burden on virus-hit businesses is also raising concerns over a possible spike in the number of infections as winter months offer a favorable environment for the virus to spread.
Health experts said citizens' cooperation will be key to the success of the nation's antivirus efforts.
"If every citizen complies with the government's antivirus guidelines, there would be no sudden spike in the number of infections," said Jung Ki-suck, a professor of pulmonology at Hallym University.