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[Report from Itaewon] Unmasked youngsters cavalier to COVID-19 in ItaewonStorekeepers complain about slow business
  • By Shim Hyun-tai
  • Published 2020.03.16 18:28
  • Updated 2020.03.17 09:24
  • comments 0

It was at 2 a.m. Sunday, but young people were filling bars and clubs in Seoul’s Itaewon area, enjoying their weekend outings despite the new coronavirus.

People, mostly in their 20s, made a long queue in front of the entrance of a club nearby the Itaewon Subway Station in the wee hours. At the door, a guard checked entrants' body temperature and whether they were wearing a mask. Once inside the place, however, they did not restrict guests’ activities.

It was a far cry from the announcement made earlier by club owners in Itaewon, one of Seoul’s most popular tourist destinations and the gathering place for resident foreigners.

Youngsters roam around in Seoul's Itaewon area to enjoy their weekend outings at 2 a.m. Sunday.

On March 6, the association of bar managers in Itaewon Special Tourism Zone said that its members would voluntarily shut down stores in consultation with the Yongsan-gu Office to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, the clubs were open, and most of the people did not seem to worry about the coronavirus. Although the clubs were known to have a relatively worse ventilation system, many people were still visiting there.

Guests were not concerned much about gathering in an enclosed space even though they must have heard about mass infections in Daegu by the members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, who took part in a service in a similarly small, crowded place.

Those who were wearing masks put them down to the bottom of their chin to talk with friends.

Two young Algerian men, 22 and 25, said that they do not fear the virus because they are young. One of them said that he would have worried if he were in Algeria.

"We will recover in several days even if we caught the virus and become infected," the 22-year-old Algerian said. "If I get infected by the virus, I can rely on the excellent Korean medical system to recover from infection."

However, they had concerns about their families back in Algeria because of insufficient medical services and the Algerian government's weak countermeasures against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most people at a club in Itaewon are not wearing masks.

At another bar, most were chatting without wearing their masks on and contacted freely with one another.

Contrary to expectations, few U.S. soldiers were seen around Itaewon, once crowded with the GIs free from the daily or weekly duty. That seemed to be because the U.S. Eighth Army Headquarters at Yongsan Garrison has long moved to the Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, where the commanders have reportedly put a temporary lockdown in motion because of COVID-19.

In contrast to some places filled with guests and laid-back atmosphere among guests, the coronavirus’ adverse effects seem to have infiltrated deeply into the revenues of most of these places’ operators.

A Korean manager of the bar, who wished to be anonymous, said that COVID-19 had hit his place’s sales hard.

The number of people coming to the bar had not decreased much since the first COVID-19 patient was confirmed on Jan 20. That changed, however, after the Shincheonji Church’s case emerged, reducing visitors to almost half, the bar owners said.

"After the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a pandemic, the number of guests plunged to 20 percent of the previous level," the lounge bar owner said.

He added that some bars and pubs have begun to close their places temporarily.

The owner said his business prospects are also unclear, and the business would become increasingly difficult as soon as COVID-19 lingers on, adding that he does not expect it would end anytime soon.


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