Curfew returns to Seoul amid spike in COVID cases

When the clock struck 9 p.m. at a Korean barbecue restaurant in Seoul on Monday, customers began to hurriedly put on their jackets and face masks to make a speedy exit.

Measures come as South Korea's daily coronavirus tallies and the number of serious cases continue to make new records amid a persistent spike in breakthrough infections, adding to strains on the country's medical system.

For the restaurant owner Lee Min-gyu, business is not going well.

"With eased restrictions that came with the "Living with COVID-19" policy, I hired more people and prepared a lot of ingredients with the hope of doing good business during the year end time. Now, with the sudden change, all the ingredients are left unattended, and I have too many workers. My business is going very bad. The government really doesn't think enough."

The government said it plans to pay 1 million KRW ($839 USD) each to small business owners, a day after curbs were announced.

Lee said the planned compensation won't be enough, adding it is less than one part-timer's monthly payment.

"I personally think those small business owners like myself should gather and protest in front of the presidential office. I hope there will be a big protest so that our voices can be delivered directly to the presidential office," said Lee.

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