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[From the Scene] ‘Living with COVID-19’ rules only followed halfway at Hongdae clubs

Clubbers wait in front of a club in Hongdae, western Seoul, Wednesday. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)
Clubbers wait in front of a club in Hongdae, western Seoul, Wednesday. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)
The South Korean government aimed for a gradual return to normal with its “living with COVID-19” policy, but the remaining restrictions are not being followed strictly at clubs and movie theaters.

The clubs on the streets of Hongdae, a party neighborhood in Mapo-gu, western Seoul, welcomed the long-awaited return of music lovers for the first time in nearly four months and made great efforts to comply with the government’s social distancing guidelines.

A notice at the entrance informed guests of the club’s total capacity. Only fully vaccinated people were allowed in, and they had to undergo temperature checks and present QR code-based identification. Hand sanitizers were available, and guests were required to keep their masks on.

While nighttime entertainment facilities in the Greater Seoul area had to shut down under the previous Level 4 social distancing rules, clubs in the Hongdae area reopened Wednesday night. The first phase of “living with COVID-19” went into effect Monday, and clubs typically do not operate Mondays or Tuesdays.

A clubber uses a QR code scanner in front of a club after midnight. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)
A clubber uses a QR code scanner in front of a club after midnight. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)
Though many measures were enforced strictly, some clubs flouted the rules by staying open past the midnight curfew. While clubs stopped selling tickets after midnight, those already inside were not asked to leave.

Curfews for cafes, restaurants, theaters and other facilities were fully lifted starting Nov. 1, but that was not the case for nighttime entertainment establishments.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare announced that nighttime entertainment businesses would be free of restrictions only during the second phase of “living with COVID-19.”

Moviegoers began enjoying nighttime screenings again on Nov. 1 -- and fully vaccinated people could enjoy the freedom to eat and drink inside designated theaters.

Hoping for a return to normal, major Korean multiplex operators offered various options for audiences, including late-night screenings for everyone and “vaccine-pass” theaters for fully vaccinated people, making it possible for the latter to have popcorn and soda.

Moviegoers line up for a late-night screening at CGV Yongsan in central Seoul on Wednesday. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)
Moviegoers line up for a late-night screening at CGV Yongsan in central Seoul on Wednesday. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)
“I am aware of various concerns surrounding the ‘living with COVID-19’ strategy, but it is true that I was able to watch ‘Eternals’ today, because of the lifted restrictions. It has been a long time since I got out of the theater at 11:57 p.m. But to be honest, I am a little worried seeing this many people packed in the theater,” said Kim, 33, at CGV Yongsan in Seoul on Wednesday night.

In compliance with the government’s “living with COVID-19” road map, staff at the theater asked the audience to take precautions, including undergoing temperature checks and using QR codes or an artificial intelligence-based phone system to check in. 

CGV Yongsan in central Seoul is packed with moviegoers on Wednesday. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)
CGV Yongsan in central Seoul is packed with moviegoers on Wednesday. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)
But people in line did not keep their distance -- one of the most basic safety protocols. Neither moviegoers nor the theater staff made any effort to maintain or enforce social distancing in the theater, which was packed with people who had come out to watch the latest Hollywood superhero film.

By Lee Si-jin (sj_lee@heraldcorp.com)
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