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Concerns rise over Seoul mayor's proposed social distancing scheme

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon speaks during a COVID-19 response briefing held at Seoul City Hall, Monday. Yonhap
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon speaks during a COVID-19 response briefing held at Seoul City Hall, Monday. Yonhap

By Lee Hyo-jin

Concern is rising over new Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon's plan for the capital to impose its own social distancing measures.

Although he said he would consult with the central government, health officials worry that his unilateral steps may weaken the antivirus measures set by the central government.

Oh, who took office, April 8, following a by-election, vowed to come up with new COVID-19 measures for the capital area ― focused on minimizing the economic damage to the self-employed ― after criticizing the current central government's ban on the operation of entertainment facilities for taking a toll on small business owners.

The health authorities recently decided to extend social distancing Level 2 across Seoul and its surrounding areas until May 2, and banned the operation of entertainment facilities such as clubs and bars with dance floors.

Eateries, cafes, karaoke rooms, and gyms are allowed to stay open until 10 p.m., but the authorities warned that the operating hours could be shortened to 9 p.m. at any time depending on the situation.

Oh, a member of the main opposition People Power Party, called the one-size-fits-all measures ineffective as they do not consider the characteristics of each business, and said his office will soon come up with separate quarantine manuals for each type of business.

"We will shift the quarantine paradigm to focus on coexistence between livelihoods (of the self-employed) and curbing the virus, from the current unilateral regulations that force sacrifices on all small business owners," Oh said during a COVID-19 response briefing held at Seoul City Hall, Monday.

He added that a detailed version of Seoul's quarantine regulations will be provided by the end of the week, and from next week he will begin talks with the central government on when and how to launch the measures.

People walk past a closed bar in Mapo District, Seoul, April 9, while the attached notice reads that it is closed due to a ban imposed on entertainment facilities in the greater Seoul area. Yonhap
People walk past a closed bar in Mapo District, Seoul, April 9, while the attached notice reads that it is closed due to a ban imposed on entertainment facilities in the greater Seoul area. Yonhap

The mayor is reportedly considering easing regulations partially on entertainment facilities, allowing some businesses to have customers inside until 11 p.m. or midnight.

The central government and the ruling party expressed concerns that Oh's unilateral steps could weaken the health authorities' antivirus measures, because different guidelines among provincial governments could create confusion.

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) said political views should not be involved in COVID-19 response policies.

"In this particular period that we are in, it is absolutely critical for the central and local governments to cooperate closely. We ask for active cooperation so that the ability to implement quarantine regulations can happen early," Huh Young, a DPK spokesman, said in a statement Sunday.

The central government, for its part, stated it had not yet received an official request for consultations from the Seoul Metropolitan Government, but said it will review the feasibility of any quarantine guidelines submitted.

Later in the day, it also said it would provide administrative and financial support to businesses that actively participate in the social distancing measures, such as those having zero infections for over a month, and may allow local governments to ease the regulations on such businesses.

At the same time, as violations of social distancing rules are increasing due to slackened public vigilance amid the year-long pandemic, the government warned of stern measures against violations of quarantine rules.

Starting from April 15, pan-government level monitoring will be launched on high-risk facilities across the country. Based on a zero-tolerance stance against violators of social distancing rules, ministries of relevant industries will cooperate with provincial governments to conduct inspections.

Regarding the recent surge in infections, President Moon Jae-in warned of the possibility of strengthening the social distancing measures.

"We are in a risky situation which may lead to an explosive spread of the virus if we let our guard down," Moon said in an antivirus response meeting of heads of relevant ministries and organizations.

"If we fail to curb the spread now, we will have to increase social distancing measures, even though doing so will worsen the people's livelihoods and the economy," he added.



이효진 lhj@koreatimes.co.kr


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