Self-employed restaurant owner takes his life after restrictions restart
The owner of a Chinese restaurant in Songpa District, southern Seoul, committed suicide Monday in yet another case of a self-employed person ending his or her own life after struggling financially since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It's very sad to see [a fellow self-employed worker] pass away so suddenly during such a difficult time,” said Lee Gyu-tae, a member of an association of self-employed people in Seoul, in speaking with JTBC on Monday. “Prompt measures and support for the self-employed are urgently needed.”
The owner of the restaurant, a man surnamed Jung, used to run a small Chinese restaurant near an apartment complex. Jung took his own life on Monday, citing how difficult it was trying to make ends meet, according to the JTBC report.
His death took place just three days after the government strengthened its social distancing guidelines, reinstating restrictions on the number of people allowed to gather in restaurants and cafes and on the operation hours of these and other businesses as new Covid-19 infections surpassed 7,000 for multiple days and hospitals throughout the country were quickly running out of beds.
The restrictions were reinstated on Saturday after a month and a half under the “Living with Covid” scheme, which was implemented after 70 percent of the population were fully vaccinated.
Jung was the 24th self-employed person citing financial struggles from the pandemic to take his own life, according to a coalition of associations and civic groups of self-employed people in Korea.
The coalition consists of six associations, or around 1.5 million self-employed people, which accounts for around 40 percent of the country’s total labor force registered as self-employed. They include restaurant and cafe owners, gym owners, bar and club owners, as well as hagwon (private cram schools) and PC bang (internet cafe) owners.
Associations of self-employed people hosted rallies at Gwanghwamun Square on Wednesday afternoon to protest the government decision.
Some of them called for a total boycott of the government’s restrictions of their operation hours, while others protested the vaccine pass system.
From Dec. 13, the country began requiring restaurants, bars, cafes, or any other public facility where people gather, to check the vaccination status of their customers. Only those who can provide evidence of their vaccination status or a negative PCR test conducted within 48 hours can enter these facilities with other people. Vaccine passes are not required for people using such facilities alone.
“Self-employed people from all over the country will gather in Gwanghwamun Square to demand the government rethink the vaccine pass system and restrictions on business hours,” said Cho Ji-hyun, co-head of a coalition of self-employed people, in speaking with the press on Tuesday.
Presidential candidates have been meeting with some restaurant and cafe owners lately, including the ruling Democratic Party’s candidate Lee Jae-myung and the opposition People Power Party’s Yoon Suk-yeol.
Lee reacted to the death of the restaurant owner on Tuesday in a post on his Facebook account.
“I heard the news that a self-employed person who had suffered hardships in life due to the pandemic made an extreme choice,” Lee wrote. “According to the wishes of the bereaved family that the funeral be held quietly with the family, I express my condolences in writing instead of paying a visit to them in person. […] Politics should focus on bringing a change to the difficult situations people find themselves in today.”
Yoon has pledged to invest 50 trillion won ($42 billion) in the first 100 days of his administration, if he wins the election next March, in supporting all self-employed people whose businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic.
The most recent announcement from the Moon Jae-in government on assisting the self-employed and small business owners in Korea came on Dec. 17, when the Finance Ministry announced that a 1-million-won grant will be given to each of around 3.2 million business owners affected by the reintroduction of Covid-19 social distancing regulations.
Korea has the sixth largest rate of self-employed people among OECD countries, at 24.6 percent of the country's total labor force, as of 2020.
BY ESTHER CHUNG, HA SU-YOUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]