March 30, 2022
SEOUL – The omicron surge threatens to disrupt wedding plans of many couples here, but some are refusing to let it spoil the most important day of their life.
Videoconferencing, livestreaming and emerging metaverse technology have made attendance possible even for those actively infected with COVID-19 — including quarantined brides and grooms.
A couple’s non-face-to-face wedding photo went viral recently, aptly captioned “Wedding in virus times” by a guest who uploaded it to an online community on March 19.
The photo shows the groom, dressed in a black tuxedo with a bow tie, appearing on giant screens on the wall of a wedding hall, while the bride stands alone at the altar. The two exchanged wedding vows via videoconferencing, as the groom had tested positive for the coronavirus just days earlier, explains the post from the online community Galmuri.
Bride-to-be Hong Seung-hee, whose ceremony is scheduled for May, said she would do the same if necessary.
“Wedding halls, especially hotels, charge their clients a penalty fee for changing reservations, worth millions of won, in general. If by any chance I get infected with the COVID-19 just before the wedding, I would rather go ahead with it through Zoom than bear serious financial damage,” said Hong, 32, a resident of Yongin, Gyeonggi Province.
The Fair Trade Commission in September 2020 revised its criteria for the settlement of consumer disputes and advised local operators of wedding halls to allow couples affected by the virus to postpone their wedding plans without fees. Since the guidance was not legally binding, many still face the burden of penalties.
Livestreaming video is becoming a trendy new aspect of weddings as the pandemic drags on. In most cases, however, it is to invite guests unable or reluctant to attend due to virus risks.
A search of “online wedding” or “wedding livestreaming” on Naver reveals a host of related service providers across the nation.
Kim, a 38-year-old woman living in Seoul who tied the knot in October last year, had her wedding broadcast to friends and acquaintances who could not attend the event due to seating limits.
“At that time, the rule was only 99 people, including at least 50 fully vaccinated people, are allowed in a wedding. By livestreaming our wedding on YouTube, my husband and I wanted to express our thanks to friends who have sent warm wishes for us,” she said.
Kim said it was so interesting to see comments in real time from friends as the wedding went on.
“Some of them sent me text messages with screenshots of the live video. Another good thing was that I could watch an entire video of my wedding ceremony as soon as it ended.”
Kim Moo-seong, a 35-year-old office worker residing in Wirye, Seoul, got married on Aug. 7 last year, under the same Level 4 social distancing regime. His solution to the 99-seat limit was the metaverse.
On the metaverse platform Gather Town, he re-created a virtual wedding chapel, complete with a flower-laden aisle, an altar and even a waiting room for the bride. Through an embedded link, online guests were able to watch a livestreaming video of Kim’s actual wedding ceremony.
“More than 30 friends of mine who couldn’t attend my offline wedding ceremony and those living abroad came to celebrate my wedding day. They left live comments during the livestream and signed the online guest book I made,” he said. “It was an unforgettable experience for me.”
Online services now extend to various aspects of wedding preparation, including virtual tours of physical wedding halls.
An operator of a wedding hall in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province, has established a virtual version of its venue on a metaverse platform urVita.app, which presents an identical replica of the aisle, the banquet hall and the bridal waiting room.
Although distancing rules are now largely relaxed under the government’s “living with COVID-19” scheme, the massive number of daily virus cases means many couples are considering a virtual wedding as a plan B for the time being, industry officials said.
Currently, the maximum number of guests at a wedding ceremony has been set at 299, regardless of vaccination status, excluding the bride, groom and their parents.
The country counted over 340,000 new confirmed cases in the 24 hours of Monday ending midnight. That brings the total caseload to 12,350,428, in this country of under 52 million, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said.
“Ahead of the spring wedding season, a growing number of couples have asked me to send a list of businesses offering livestreaming services. Many express concerns over the possibility of catching the virus before the wedding day. They’re also worried that many of their guests might not be able to come if they become infected,” said a 40-year-old wedding planner surnamed Kook.
“A virtual wedding would become a must for couples if a new variant of the COVID-19 emerges and the pandemic prolongs,” she added.