Small businesses on the brink want 100 trillion won

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Small businesses on the brink want 100 trillion won

A restaurant owner works by herself at aunch time in Daegu on Sunday, a day after a stricter social distancing scheme went into effect. [YONHAP]

A restaurant owner works by herself at aunch time in Daegu on Sunday, a day after a stricter social distancing scheme went into effect. [YONHAP]

The sudden and dramatic about-face on social distancing is just too much for some small businesses, pushing them over an edge on which they have been teetering for months.
 

"The number of customers fell by more than a half compared to last week," said No Yong-kyu, 49, who runs a coin noraebang singing room in Nowon District in northern Seoul.

 
He made the comment on Nov. 18, the first day stricter social distancing went into effect in Korea, 45 days after the restrictions were loosened.  
 
Restaurants, cafés and leisure-related facilities must now close at 9 p.m. Up to four vaccinated people per group are allowed to visit these establishments together, while the unvaccinated are only allowed to eat alone or opt for take-outs or deliveries.  
 
"It is because there was a lot of snow today and the operating hours were restricted to 9 p.m.," No said. "Half of our operation's daily sales are generated after 9 p.m. There was that much of a loss today."
 
The year-end is peak season for many restaurants, cafes and leisure-related facilities, and it was the last hope for businesses working to make up for a very bad year.
 
Now, that hope is gone.  
 
"The previous social-distancing scheme was carried out with the understanding that it would end within two weeks," No said. "But it restarted just in time for the year-end season. The damage is going to be bigger than before."
 
Small business owners in Korea are gearing up to take collective action.  
 
An association representing those affected by Covid-19 is preparing to make claims against the government. It says that the distancing scheme hurt their businesses for multiple weeks, and the promised compensation of 1 million won ($850) is still too small.
 
"Through our attorney, we are going to calculate the actual damages and ask for that much from the government," said Oh Ho-suk, head of the Association of Small Business Owners Harmed by Covid-19, which formed recently.  
 
The Small Business Owners Association, another newly formed group, said it is going to ask for 100 trillion won from the government
 
"Currently, there are pledges from the political scene about compensating the small business owners," said Lee Jae-in, a spokesperson for the association.  
 
"But there are no specifics about when the funds will be disbursed and how much is going to be given. Even though it is just before the presidential election, I believe that a compensation plan has to be detailed and carried out as soon as possible."
 
The government last week promised 1 million won to each business, but the businesses say that's far from enough.
 
"We are not making a damages claim because we want to get just 1 million won," said Oh from the association representing small business harmed by Covid-19.  
 
"Limiting operating hours to 9 p.m. means that we are losing most of our business. And for that we only get 1 million won. That is nonsense."
 
 
 
 
 

BY LEE BYUNG-JUN, JIN EUN-SOO [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]
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