Self-employed are the victims
The author is the head of the industry 1 team of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Small business owners ask if they are slaves to disease control in Korea. While the government praises its “successful” disease control measures in return for small businesses’ sacrifices, their complaints are growing. “Are small business owners slaves to disease control in Korea?” was posted on the Blue House petition board last month. It was shared on Naver, Korea’s biggest online community. They even scorn themselves that they were pushovers for disease control measures.
Former Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun first began deeming Korea’s disease control measures successful in March 2020. The U.S. and Europe had tens of thousands of positive cases daily, but Korea had less than 100 cases, a praise-worthy outcome for disease control. But that was possible because of the ban on travel in quasi-curfew conditions and the enforcement of the suspension of small business operations.
In the meantime, many small business owners disappeared without raising their voices. According to Statistics Korea, their number decreased to 5.57 million in the second quarter, down 100,000 from two years ago. The number is smaller than 5.66 million in the second quarter of 1998, shortly after the foreign currency crisis. And debt grew drastically. In the first half, small business owners got 840 trillion won ($718.8 billion) in loans from financial institutions. Many small business owners couldn’t pay tax. They submitted 8.6 million tax payment postponement requests in the first quarter, more than last year’s record of 1.5 million.
Small business owners lament that they were “massacred” by the toughest Level 4 measures. The government wanted to make its social distancing campaign “short and firm,” but the number of positive cases have been over 1,000 for a month now. Disease control experts said early on that only vaccines will be a game changer, but the government was elated by its relatively successful disease control and arrogantly claimed that there was no need to rush to buy vaccines. So, the timing to transition to “living with the virus” like other countries has been delayed further. A few days ago, Lee Chang-ho, co-head of a national small business association asked how long the government would restrict business. He said he didn’t have the energy to endure more.
It has become clear that Korea’s disease control plan cannot endure Covid-19. The time has come to end the harsh disease control measures.