SEOUL, April 18 (Yonhap) -- On the first day of the lifting of all COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, small business owners said they are looking forward to seeing as many customers as before the pandemic.
All social distancing rules, except a mask mandate, was lifted this week, allowing restaurants, cafes and other small businesses to operate freely without a curfew and limits on the size of private gatherings.
"Group reservations of 10-20 people keep coming in as companies resume after-hour dinners," an employee of a Korean barbecue restaurant in central Seoul said.
A 58-year-old cafe owner in the busy district of Gangnam welcomed the government's decision, saying she hopes to see all tables at her cafe full with customers as they were before COVID-19 broke out.
"I could feel more people hanging out at night from last week. I hope I can recover my store's sales soon," the owner said while busily preparing fruit juices to sell, adding the biggest change is that people now have no fear of having private gatherings.
Some, however, were still uncertain whether the economy will fully recover due to the prolonged virus situation.
"Hiring new employees is out of the question for now. I think it will still be difficult to attract customers like before as many people are used to social distancing rules," Moon Hak-seok, a 63-year-old owner of a sushi restaurant in southern Seoul, said.
Office workers, students and other people also expressed excitement to return to their normal lives.
"During the pandemic, all of my daily routines were home and work," a 27-year-old office worker, surnamed Lee, said. "I am looking forward to the daily happiness normal life can bring, like eating popcorn while watching a movie at the theaters alone."
Hong Ji-hwan, a 23-year-old student at Korea University, said he was excited to experience campus life, which practically did not exist since COVID-19 broke out in early 2020.
"Bars and pubs around the school will be flooding with people starting today, and I know that school clubs are already preparing for big events," Hong said.
Lee Seung-ryeol, 29, said he will go on a second honeymoon with his wife to a foreign country in June because they had to go to Jeju, a southern resort island, for their honeymoon due to virus restrictions.
Inbound travelers will only be required to submit one negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result on the first day of their arrival and exempt from the mandatory quarantine regardless of which country they visited starting in June.
Some, meanwhile, still expressed concerns over possible infections, hoping others will be more mindful of personal hygiene as the pandemic has not fully ended.
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