SEOUL – Halloween in South Korea this year was frightening for reasons that had nothing to do with ghosts or goblins.
Despite falling on a Sunday, the October 31 holiday was celebrated on a Saturday night, making it ideal for Halloween parties.
While South Korea does not practice the custom of kids dressed in costumes going door-to-door trick-or-treating, the nightlife districts of major cities tend to fill up late at night with boozing revellers.
These gatherings took place at a critical juncture in the country’s long fight against COVID-19. Because Halloween took place before the rules were relaxed, bars had to close at 10 p.m., and the number of people who could gather indoors was limited. Nonetheless, images of crowded streets made some people nervous.
NEW SPANNER MAY BE THROWN IN THE WORKS BY HALLOWEEN PARTY GOERS.
In October, the South Korean government announced that the country had passed the threshold of having more than 70% of its population fully vaccinated and would thus begin the process of lifting COVID-19-related social distancing restrictions and resuming normal life.
For a population that had been living under some level of restrictions for well over a year and a half, the news was a welcome relief, a glimmer at the end of a long, lonely tunnel.
This new era began on Monday (Nov 1). Among the changes would be an increase in the number of hours that bars, restaurants, and indoor sports facilities can operate.
Restaurants now allow groups of up to ten people to dine together, as long as at least six of them are fully vaccinated. More spectators are permitted to attend sporting events, and late-night subways and buses will resume their regular schedules.
However, costumed revellers congregating in bars and clubs over the Halloween weekend threatened to derail these plans.
The large number of people out and about on Saturday night sparked public concern, prompting Interior Minister Jeon Hae-cheol to issue finger-wagging warnings that violators of anti-virus rules would face punishment, and that law enforcement would conduct patrols in high-density areas on Sunday.
He was aware that many South Koreans were concerned that the opening would result in cluster infections and a new wave of the virus. The front page of the Donga Ilbo newspaper yelled “Masks are our last remaining protection” on the day the revised standards went into effect, referring to how the wearing of masks both indoors and outdoors would remain mandatory.