November 08, 2021 12:20
Major tourist spots around the country were teeming with visitors over the first weekend since Korea began a phased return to normal. Downtown Seoul was also packed with thousands of protesters after a ban on rallies was lifted.
Just a week after the experiment in living with coronavirus began, the atmosphere was reminiscent of pre-coronavirus times, sending waves of alarm through the ranks of health experts.
Hikers turned out en masse to enjoy the autumn foliage. Mt. Naejang in North Jeolla Province attracted 40,000 visitors over the weekend, and a line of cars stretched for 7 km from the parking lot at the foot of the mountain. "We had almost twice the number of visitors compared to the same period last year," a park staffer said.
More than 30,000 people also visited Mt. Seorak in Gangwon Province and 20,000 people Mt. Odae, Chiak and Gyeryong national parks.
Exhibitions and other events that were canceled since the outbreak of the pandemic resumed, drawing huge crowds to major parks and recreational areas. More than 30,000 people visited Seoul Grand Park in Gwacheon over the weekend, while nighttime tour tickets to Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul are fully booked until Nov. 29.
Seoul's Jamsil Baseball Stadium was packed with spectators who gathered to watch the final game of the best-of-three quasi-playoff series between Doosan Bears and LG Twins on Sunday.
According to the Korea Expressway Corporation, 5.43 million cars took to the highways on Saturday and 5.38 million on Sunday, up around five percent from last year. A KEC staffer said, "Eased lockdown plus excellent weather and the autumn foliage led to increased traffic."
But downtown Seoul was the scene of political rallies of one kind or another. On Saturday, around 2,800 protesters from 21 organizations converged in Gwanghwamun, as rallies are now allowed for up to 499 people.
Churches, cathedrals and temples also filled with worshippers. Around 350 people took part in midday mass at Myeongdong Cathedral on Sunday. The cathedral now allows up to 600 people to worship on Sundays regardless of vaccination. Jogye Temple in Jongno raised the number of visitors to its main hall from 49 to 150, and another 200 Buddhist worshippers prayed outside the temple on Sunday.
Health experts were unhappy. Many people could be spotted at major tourist spots without masks or wearing them on their chins. One 64-year-old visitor to Mt. Naejang said, "It may be safer to be outdoors, but with so many people, I'm afraid the number of infections could surge."
Kim Tak at Soonchunhyang University Hospital said, "It's difficult to persuade people to stay vigilant about infections after the long lockdown. We need to remind them to keep wearing their masks and get vaccinated in order to return to a normal life as early as possible."
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