February 07, 2020 11:13
Seoul's normally bustling shopping districts are turning into ghost towns as fear of coronavirus spreads, and railway stations, bus terminals and airports are emptying.
A small business owner said, "People seem to be much more afraid than when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome broke out." Many small businesses that rely on foot traffic are suffering as Koreans stay indoors, and only online business is thriving.
After it was reported Thursday that a patient who has been quarantined since testing positive for coronavirus lives in the Helio City apartments in Seoul's southeastern district of Songpa, the neighborhood streets seem to have emptied out.
An eerie quiet now hangs over the huge complex with its 9,500 households.
One 32-year-old office worker who used to take subway to work in downtown Seoul has been driving his own car since Monday. "I have to pay W10,000 a day for parking, but I'm scared to take a crowded subway," he said (US$1=W1,184).
Public transportation use has nosedived. According to Seoul Metro, 34.45 million people took the subway from Jan. 29 to Feb. 2, down 2.26 million, or 6.1 percent, from the same period last year.
Gyms and indoor playgrounds for kids, where customers have reason to be afraid of body fluids like saliva and sweat, also lie deserted, especially in downtown areas frequented by Chinese tourists.
"We used to have about 300 customers a day, but now that's dropped to 40 a day since reports that a coronavirus patient visited the area," said Kim Yong-ja (62) who has kept shop in Namdaemun Market for 20 years. "I've told three of my five staff to stay at home for the time being."
Shopping malls have also been hit hard. There were only 14 customers in the cosmetics corner on the first floor of the main branch of Lotte Department Store in Sogong-dong at 3 p.m. Thursday. Only three customers were browsing jewelry and fashion brands where a staff of 11 were working. Sales at the main branch of Lotte Department Store and duty-free shops in the area plummeted 30 percent on-year last weekend.
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