(ATTN: UPDATES with health ministry spokesman's remarks, details in paras 8-9, 11)
SEOUL, Jan. 12 (Yonhap) -- Cafe and gym owners are filing separate lawsuits against the government this week seeking billions of won in compensation for losses suffered under COVID-19 business restrictions, industry groups said.
At the Seoul Western District Court on Tuesday, 203 gym owners belonging to the Pilates and Fitness Business Association filed for 5 million won (US$4,549) each for about 1 billion won in total.
It was their second such suit. The group demanded 765 million won in its first suit filed with the Seoul Southern District Court last month.
"If the government imposed an assembly ban and other restrictions simply due to the belief that (saliva) sprays more at indoor sports facilities, they must reconsider," Park Joo-hyung, head of the association, said during a press conference outside the Seoul Western District Court, claiming that only 0.64 percent of last year's coronavirus infections in Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province were traced to indoor gyms.
"We want (the government) to bring us scientific data or prove our analysis wrong," he said.
Indoor gyms in the capital area have been forced to close since early December when the government raised the social distancing scheme to Level 2.5. Most other parts of the nation are currently under Level 2.
The current scheme is set to run through Sunday, after which the government has indicated it will ease the restrictions to reflect a slowdown in new COVID-19 cases.
"We're just over a week along the downward curve of the third wave," Son Young-rae, a health ministry spokesman, told reporters Tuesday, saying he expects the next scheme to be announced Saturday.
"Because of the importance of maximizing this smooth downward trend, we will look at lifting the assembly ban in phases," Son said, adding that the ban is currently in place for the type of facilities that saw cluster infections in November, and therefore have a high risk of infection.
After some business owners opened their gyms last week in defiance of the assembly ban, the government allowed all indoor sports facilities to accept up to nine children at a time but still faced backlash as the businesses argued their clients are mostly adults.
Coffee shops in the capital area have been banned from offering dine-in services since Level 2 kicked in in late November. Business owners have been trying to survive on delivery and takeout alone.
On Thursday, around 200 cafe owners plan to file a suit against the government at the Seoul Central District Court, seeking 5 million won in damages each, the national cafe owners association said Monday.
"We're filing a suit out of desperation because our livelihoods are at risk due to the government's COVID-19 regulations," Ko Jang-soo, who recently founded the association, said. "We urge the government to come up with a consistent and fair system."
Kim Ho-young, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said the restrictions on coffee shops amounted to "arbitrary discrimination" without "rational reason."
He added that the plaintiffs plan to file a separate petition with the Constitutional Court.
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