Business owners and self-employed people in Korea gather in Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul on Wednesday to protest the government’s reinstatement of restrictions on office hours and the expansion of the office system. vaccine passes at the beginning of the month. [YONHAP]

The owner of a Chinese restaurant in South Seoul’s Songpa district killed himself on Monday in another case of a self-employed worker ending his life after experiencing financial hardship since the start of the pandemic. Covid-19.

“It’s very sad to see [a fellow self-employed worker] have passed away so suddenly during such a difficult time, ”said Lee Gyu-tae, a member of a self-employed workers’ association in Seoul, in an interview with JTBC on Monday. “Swift action and support for self-employed workers is urgently needed. ”

The restaurant owner, a man named Jung, ran a small Chinese restaurant near an apartment complex. Jung committed suicide on Monday, citing how difficult it was to make ends meet, according to the JTBC report.

His death came just three days after the government tightened its social distancing guidelines, reinstating restrictions on the number of people allowed to congregate in restaurants and cafes and on the opening hours of these businesses. and others as new Covid-19 infections surpassed 7,000 for several days and hospitals across the country were quickly running out of beds.

The restrictions were reinstated on Saturday after a month and a half under the ‘Living with Covid’ program, which was implemented after 70% of the population was fully vaccinated.

Jung was the 24th self-employed person citing the financial difficulties of the pandemic to take his own life, according to a coalition of independent worker associations and civic groups in Korea.

The coalition is made up of six associations, or around 1.5 million self-employed workers, which represents about 40 percent of the country’s total workforce registered as self-employed. They include restaurant and cafe owners, gym owners, bar and club owners, as well as hagwon (private continuing education schools) and PC shot (internet cafe) owners.

Self-employed workers’ associations held rallies in Gwanghwamun Square on Wednesday afternoon to protest the government’s decision.

Some of them called for a total boycott of government restrictions on their opening hours, while others protested the pass system for vaccines.

From December 13, the country began requiring restaurants, bars, cafes or any other public establishment where people congregate to check the immunization status of their clients. Only people who can provide proof of their vaccination status or a negative PCR test carried out within 48 hours can enter these establishments with other people. Vaccine passes are not required for individuals using these facilities alone.

“Self-employed workers from across the country will gather in Gwanghwamun Square to call on the government to rethink the vaccine pass system and restrictions on opening hours,” said Cho Ji-hyun, co-chief of ‘a coalition of independent workers, in talks with the press on Tuesday.

In recent times, the presidential candidates have met with restaurant and cafe owners, including ruling Democratic Party candidate Lee Jae-myung and Yoon Suk-yeol of the People’s Power Party.

Lee reacted to the restaurateur’s death on Tuesday in a post on his Facebook account.

“I heard the news that a self-employed worker who had suffered difficulties in life due to the pandemic had made an extreme choice,” wrote Lee. “In keeping with the wishes of the bereaved family that the funeral proceeds smoothly with the family, I express my condolences in writing instead of visiting them in person. […] Policy should focus on bringing change to the difficult situations people find themselves in today. ”

Yoon has pledged to invest 50 trillion won ($ 42 billion) in the first 100 days of his administration, if he wins next March’s election, to support all self-employed workers whose businesses have been hit hard. affected by the pandemic.

The most recent announcement by Moon Jae-in’s government on helping self-employed and small business owners in Korea was made on December 17, when the Ministry of Finance announced that a grant of $ 1 million won would be awarded to each of the 3.2 million entrepreneurs affected by the reintroduction of the Covid-19 regulations on social distancing.

Korea has the sixth highest rate of self-employment among OECD countries, with 24.6% of the country’s total labor force, in 2020.

BY ESTHER CHUNG, HA SU-YOUNG [[email protected]]