SEOUL, March 18 (Yonhap) -- Restaurants, cafes and other small business owners on Friday expressed frustration over the government's latest COVID-19 rule relaxation, with many questioning the efficacy of the gathering restriction when the nation is faced with its biggest virus wave to date.
Earlier in the day, the government decided to raise the private gathering ceiling from the current six to eight starting Monday while maintaining the 11 p.m. business curfew. The announcement came as the fast spread of omicron has pushed up the virus curve in recent weeks, with Thursday's infections piling up to an all-time high of 621,328.
Many small merchants struggling from slow business expressed disappointment at what they considered insufficient relaxation of the rules. Some said they had hoped for the restrictions to be lifted entirely following last week's presidential election.
"Regardless of the gathering ceiling, customers are already being seated next to strangers at restaurants. It's not as if the virus has eyes to watch who people are eating with," Cho Jae-bong, 56, owner of a barbecue restaurant in eastern Seoul, said.
Yang Seung-min, 37, who runs a raw fish restaurant in Jongno, central Seoul, also expressed disappointment. "Just a few days ago, we were told the curfew will be relaxed to midnight. Isn't this a deceiving of the people by the government?" he said.
Karaoke business owners were also dismayed. "I understand the difficulties in loosening virus rules, but we would be much better off if the curfew was relaxed to midnight," Lee Dong-seok, a 63-year-old karaoke operator in northern Seoul, said.
Students, office workers and other average citizens also questioned the effectiveness of the current virus curbs in place amid the explosive rate of virus transmissions. "I doubt the gathering restriction can suppress the current omicron wave," Hong Seong-min, a 32-year-old office worker in Seoul, said.
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