SEOUL, Sept. 3 (Korea Bizwire) — The upcoming Chuseok holiday, the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving and one of the country’s most celebrated holidays, is posing a significant hurdle to health authorities struggling to contain the fourth wave of COVID-19.
This year’s three-day Chuseok holiday runs from Sept. 20-22, and it will be extended by an extra two days due to a preceding weekend.
Traditionally, Koreans head back to their hometowns to be with their family members and visit their ancestors’ graves to commemorate them.
Fearing that simultaneous gatherings of people at homes and tourist spots would further heighten the chances of COVID-19 transmissions, local governments nationwide are advising against hometown visits or travel during the extra-long holiday.
Some of them are determined to take more visible actions, such as the elimination of public transport discounts for hometown visitors and the imposition of a cap on the number of entrants to public cemeteries and columbariums, to discourage people’s holiday movements.
The central government also remains on extra high alert ahead of Chuseok, with Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum asking the nation Friday to minimize gatherings during the holiday.
It announced that up to eight people, as long as at least four are fully vaccinated, will be allowed to get together during the extended Chuseok holiday.
Incheon’s Ongjin County, about 50 kilometers west of Seoul, will not offer discounts on ship fare for people visiting their hometowns on numerous islands in the Yellow Sea during Chuseok as it did last year.
The county had previously subsidized homecoming people’s ferry rides to its islands but has suspended the program since last year to fight COVID-19.
“The cumulative number of COVID-19 cases in Ongjin totals a mere nine. But the spread of the coronavirus will inevitably cause great damage to islands where the proportion of the elderly population is high,” an Ongjin County official said.
Ulleung County of the southeastern province of North Gyeongsang has also decided to stop providing ferry fare discounts for homecoming visitors to the remote East Sea island.
Many provincial and municipal authorities, such as Gangwon Province, the east coast city of Gangneung and central province of North Chungcheong, plan to launch various public campaigns via social media and street banners to urge people to stay at home during Chuseok.
Ulsan, a southeastern city, plans to scale down its perennial Chuseok celebration events hosted by its museums, libraries and art centers.
Some local governments, including Seoul, Busan, the southern resort island of Jeju and the southeastern city of Changwon, plan to close parts of their public cemeteries and columbariums during Chuseok, while others are determined to impose a limit on the number of visitors to their memorial facilities by introducing a reservation system.
So far, four cities in Gyeonggi Province that surrounds Seoul — Pyeongtaek, Osan, Goyang and Uijeongbu — have announced plans to enforce a reservation system for visitors to their public cemeteries and columbariums.
Those local governments are asking people to use online ancestor worship services, instead of traveling to public cemeteries and columbariums.
In accordance with such efforts, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said Friday it will again offer a free online worship service for Chuseok, helping people pay their respects to their dead ancestors in cyberspace and communicate with their relatives.
Anybody can freely use the ministry’s online worship service by accessing the “funeral information system” at sky.15774129.go.kr and opening an individual memorial hall, ministry officials said.