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Seoul cafes face new trading restrictions as Covid-19 returns

Photo of a cafe
Photo of a cafe
Korean cafes are allowed only for takeout or delivery
Photo: Bigstock

South Korea is restricting operations of restaurants, bakeries and franchised coffee chains in the greater Seoul area in an effort to contain a new outbreak of Covid-19.

Under the plan that lasts until next Sunday, restaurants and bakeries can operate until 9pm, and only takeaway and delivery will be permitted from 9pm to 5am.

For Seoul cafes, only takeout or delivery will be permitted regardless of operating hours, as cluster infections traced to coffee shops have been reported.

Customers visiting coffee chains for takeaway must follow quarantine measures, such as making entry logs, wearing masks and keeping a safe distance.

The move is part of the government’s strengthened virus curbs in Seoul and the surrounding areas, home to half of the country’s 51 million population, as the country is struggling to curb spiking virus cases.

On Sunday, the country reported 299 new Covid-19 cases – a drop below the 300 mark for the first time in five days – but health authorities remain on high alert as the triple-digit daily increase continued.

Instead of raising the level of social distancing to the highest Level 3, the country unveiled stronger and “tailored” virus curbs last Friday for vulnerable groups and risk-prone facilities, a move widely viewed as ‘Level 2.5’.

The government has been cautious about raising the social-distancing guidelines to Level 3 from the current Level 2 due to the far-reaching impact on the economy.

In line with the stricter social distancing guidelines, cafe workers are putting store chairs upside down to indicate they operate only for takeaway or delivery.

Some customers who frequent such coffee joints to study or read books have shifted to bakeries that operate normally until 9pm.

A Seoul street dotted with private educational institutes is largely empty amid stricter social distancing to curb the new coronavirus outbreak on Aug. 30, 2020. (Yonhap)
A Seoul street dotted with private educational institutes is largely empty amid stricter social distancing to curb the new coronavirus outbreak on August 30. (Yonhap)

Meanwhile, South Korea began to suspend the operation of indoor sports facilities, including fitness centers and billiard halls, in the wake of virus infections at indoor sports centres.

The government also expanded no-assembly orders from large academies to almost all cram schools in the wider Seoul area. Only online lectures will be permitted.

To protect the elderly from the risk of infection, visits to nursing homes and facilities will be banned.

Health authorities will also make one-third of all employees at government agencies and public institutions work from home. They also recommended private companies take similar steps.

In mid-August, the government raised virus curbs to Level Two in the Seoul region for two weeks and expanded it across the nation starting last Sunday.

Health authorities extended the current step for one more week in the wider Seoul region, as the number of new infections has not shown signs of easing.

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