Gov't resorts to signs, stickers to combat civilian Covid police
Large groups of people eating out together have become an obsolete sight in Korea, especially during the evenings, since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
So it was only natural that a group of seven people eating dakgalbi (stir-fried chicken with pepper marinade) at a restaurant in Chuncheon, Gangwon, after 6 p.m. on Sunday drew looks of confusion and anxiety from other customers.
But when the other diners saw a bright blue tabletop sign that read in bold letters “Table with fully vaccinated people,” they nodded quietly to themselves and went about their business.
“When we didn’t have the tabletop signs, my employees had to face many awkward situations with worried and uncomfortable customers,” said Park Kyeong-nam, a 60-year-old restaurant owner in Chuncheon. “But, at the same time, it wasn’t like the employees could go around the whole restaurant explaining that the large group eating at the corner table have been checked for full vaccinations.”
The current social distancing rules allow Chuncheon residents to dine in groups as big as eight until 10 p.m. as long as there are no more than four people who haven't completed their vaccination at least two weeks prior. The others must be confirmed fully vaccinated.
Park recalled an incident last Monday, when her restaurant did not have the tabletop signs.
She recounted when officials from Chuncheon city’s department of food and drugs came to her restaurant to inspect eight customers who were dining together, after the city office received a civilian report that accused her and her customers of violating social distancing rules.
But the city officials left soon afterwards when they realized that there were no violations of social distancing rules because five of the eight customers had been fully vaccinated for over 14 days.
Chuncheon city office said that they have received about 100 to 150 civilian calls in the recent months, falsely reporting groups in restaurants for violating social distancing rules.
Recognizing the city residents’ confusion and anxiety amid the constantly evolving Covid-19 scheme and social distancing guidelines, the Chuncheon city government is currently in the process of making 3,000 tabletop signs for tables of fully-vaccinated guests, and distributing them to around 1,000 restaurants.
“Most civilian reports wrongly accuse group customers, without knowledge of their vaccination status,” said Lee Seong-hwan, food hygiene team manager of the Chuncheon city’s department of food and drugs.
“We hope that the tabletop signs can help them to avoid any misunderstandings in restaurants and also be of some help to restaurant owners who are suffering from the continuous effects of the pandemic.”
As the number of vaccinated people increases, other local governments have devised creative policies to cap false accusations of violations of social distancing.
Jung District in central Seoul and Dobong District in northern Seoul each made 8,700 and 3,200 social distancing rule posters for the cafes and restaurants of their districts to display.
The posters outline Seoul’s current social distancing rules to help customers fully enjoy the city’s eatery services while adhering to current social distancing rules.
The government of Sokcho, Gangwon, made 42,000 stickers for its fully-vaccinated residents to wear in cafes and restaurants.
Local offices of Hamyang County in South Gyeongsang and Hwasun County in South Jeolla are distributing badges to individuals when they receive their second vaccine.
“The badges are not a formal way of confirming one’s vaccination status, but they do act as a secondary confirmation and give psychological relief to our county residents,” said an official of Hamyang County Office.
Moreover, Hamyang County is giving out printed out versions of forms that confirm one’s vaccination status and stickers to the elderly over the age of 65 who are not adept at using smartphones as a way to confirm their vaccination status.
The stickers are small enough for people to stick them on their identification cards, credit cards or wallets.
Experts agreed that the public signs to indicate a person’s vaccination status are very helpful, especially as Korea gets ready to adopt what the government calls its “With Corona” strategy.
“As the vaccination rates rise and the number of deaths decline, it is important for both local and central governments to devise policies that allow its people to actively participate in the economy,” said Yeom Myeong-bae, an economics professor of Chungnam National University.
BY PARK JIN-HO, LEE JIAN [email@example.com]