South Korean Smog Fears Keep More People Indoors

Ben Cho, April 12, 2018, 8:27 a.m.


Walking was all the rage in Korea until a few years ago as a light, healthy form of exercise and a pleasant way to pass the time, but now fears of toxic haze are keeping more and more people indoors. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the proportion of regular adult walkers who head outside for at least half an hour a day more than five times a week stood at 41.3 percent in 2014, but fell to 39.1 percent in 2016.

Deadly fine dust particles in the increasingly frequent haze played a role. The government first introduced a fine dust alert system in 2013 and began warning people about ultra-fine dust levels in 2014. Now spring is here, many people are still staying indoors. On Wednesday afternoon, only around 60 people were waiting in line to board a cable car to Mt. Nam in Seoul, and most of them were tourists.

The owner of a nearby restaurant said, "Half of the people coming here used to be locals and half were tourists. But now, only tourists come here who have little knowledge about fine dust pollution."

Suh Hyun-bok (69), a local who frequently climbs Mt. Nam, said, "I used to see a lot of people walking here even on weekdays, but the number has dropped sharply these days."

Seoullo, the elevated park on an old overpass in downtown Seoul that opened last May, gets fewer visitors too. Owners of stores nearby said business is even slower than when the park was an overpass.

Another trader said, "The city built lots of hiking courses and plazas, but nobody's walking these days."

Annual outdoor festivals are also witnessing sharp declines in visitors. A cherry blossom festival in Hadong, South Gyeongsang Province drew 1.17 million visitors two years ago, but the number fell to 295,000 last year and even further to 203,000 this year.

Shifting temperatures caused flowers to bloom later than usual this spring, while fine dust kept many visitors away. The cherry blossom festival in Yeouido in Seoul drew 5.6 million visitors last year, but as of Wednesday, just a day before the festival ends, only 4.27 million had come.

"The biggest obstacles to the cherry blossom festival were news reports of fine dust warnings," a Yeouido festival staffer said. 

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