Small business owners take to their cars in rally to decry restrictions
More than 2,000 small business owners took part in car rallies nationwide late Wednesday night, demanding the government lift the restrictions on small businesses.
The protestors, honking and flashing the hazard lights from within their cars, took to the streets in nine regions across the country including Seoul, Ulsan, and the provinces of North Jeolla, South Gyeongsang and Gangwon. Small business owners have held these so-called rolling rallies twice before in a single region, but this is the first time for them to stage a rally nationwide.
In an effort to stem the latest surge of Covid-19 infections, Korea extended its strictest Level 4 social distancing measures for another month until Oct. 3 in the greater Seoul area, which orders all restaurants, cafes, gyms, PC bang (PC rooms) and noraebang (singing rooms) to close at 10 p.m., and completely shuts down nightclubs and bars that allow dancing.
No more than four unvaccinated people can mingle socially, but that number shrinks to two after 6 p.m. in the greater capital area, home to half of the country’s population.
In Seoul, hundreds of vehicles driven by the National Emergency Committee for Small Business Owners — formed by 22 associations of businesses — gathered on the western section of the Gangbyeon Expressway near Yanghwa Bridge and launched a rally at 11 p.m. They demanded the transition into the government's living with Covid-19 strategy; removal of business curfews and gathering bans that only restrict the operations of self-employed businesses; and rapid compensation for financial losses.
The participants turned on their hazard lights and slowly drove their cars at speeds around 20 to 30 kilometers (12 to 19 miles) per hour. When passing along the Hannam Bridge, they regularly honked their horns in what they called an SOS signal. In compliance with social distancing measures, the drivers did not get out of their vehicles, open car windows or shout slogans during the protest.
“All administrative regulations that only regulate small business owners should immediately be abolished,” an official from the emergency committee for the group said.
“Small business owners incurred debts of over 66 trillion won [$56.4 billion] over the past year and a half, and as many as 453,000 businesses closed down,” he said.
“The Covid-19 fatality rate has fallen from 3 percent to 0.1 percent, but only small business owners have been forced to bear the damage caused by the failure to transform the quarantine system,” the official added. “We can't stand it anymore.”
Calling such rallies “illegal,” the police dispatched a total of 21 forces along the routes of the protest in an effort to prevent violations of related laws. Under Level 4 distancing measures, all types of protests and rallies, except for one-man rallies, are prohibited. During the protest, the police would sometimes take pictures of participating vehicles, possibly to later hand out punishments.
At the same time, some politicians from the opposition party showed up in Yeouido, western Seoul, to support the rallies.
The main opposition People Power Party (PPP) Chairman Lee Jun-seok held a one-man picket protest in front of the National Assembly building, asking to “completely revise the non-scientific quarantine rules that put pressure on small business owners.”
“I came out to [stop the government] from strangling small business owners,” Lee said. “I hope you recognize the feelings of the owners of small business who desperately took part in the car protest.”
While Lee broadcasted his protest live, he was joined by Won Hee-ryong, former Jeju Governor, and Choi Jae-hyeong, former chairman of the Board of Audit and Inspection, both of whom are running for candidacy in the primary.
Meanwhile, Korea reported 2,049 more Covid-19 cases on Thursday, including 2,018 local infections, raising the total caseload to 267,470.
Nine more deaths were added, bringing the death toll to 2,343.
BY SEO JI-EUN, OH WON-SEOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]